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. Lightman says:

    I read Scott’s post on tumblr about the really potentially fucked up consequences of hemispherectomy ( http://slatestarscratchpad.tumblr.com/post/132776145751/pistachi0n-slatestarscratchpad-people-keep ). Is there any serious research into the idea that disconnected hemispheres might retain consciousness?

    • MasteringTheClassics says:

      Associated thought, does it necessarily follow that a conscious, disconnected hemisphere would experience anything horrific? Sensory deprivation tends to cause hallucinations, but these aren’t necessarily unpleasant (deaf people hearing music, for example). Is there reason to think the hemisphere wouldn’t just enter a sort of dream state, producing and experiencing its own reality without necessarily ending up in a nightmare?

      (Granted, this type of total self-absorption is among the Christian conceptions of hell, but from a secular standpoint that shouldn’t be the case.)

      • anon says:

        I imagine it would be something along the lines of what the Johnny Got His Gun guy goes through, not a pleasant experience for even the staunchest atheist

      • Muga Sofer says:

        Another common effect reported by people who undergo sensory deprivation – by the way, am I the only one surprised by how terrible the research on this is – is that they sleep a lot. I strongly suspect the severed half is dreaming.

        Um, “I could be bounded in a nutshell”, as it were.

      • Josh Rubin says:

        Sensory deprivation might not be that bad for the disused half-brain.

        In the 1970’s, I traveled from San Diego, California to Chicago, Illinois in the back of a van, rigged as a sensory deprivation “chamber.” I have never had such a painless road trip. Bus companies should look into FedEx’ing customer pods.

        I was a high school student returning to New York after hitchhiking west. A college ride board led me to the psych grad student who owned the van. He suggested that some people liked sleeping in there. If this was PhD thesis work, it was a tad unethical.

        Absence suppresses the passage of time. I looked for light, but didn’t find any. I listened to tires and wind. I felt turns and bumps. Boring stimuli might as well be no stimuli. Nothing for the brain to do. I drifted.

        The next time I saw the light of day, it was the next day. I had peed myself, but the van owner just slid me out, walked me around, wiped the vinyl surface with a towel, had me eat and drink, and slid me back. I peeked out at the Vegas strip. It was cold in the desert. I arrived in Chicago an unknown time later.

        None of this caused me any anxiety or boredom. And I got home really, really, cheaply with a good story.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree with Scott on this: the right action would be to somehow destroy the severed hemisphere.

      I have no idea what, if anything, it would experience, but given the choice between death and spending decades with no sensory input, I would choose the former (deciding factor: no sensory input means no way to end your existence if it turns out to be horrible).

      • Vaniver says:

        Yeah, nothing can go wrong if you have a bunch of dead tissue inside your skull.

        • Careless says:

          well there’s presumably some way to extract it safely. Hell, even something like a massive lobotomy would be better than letting it live like that

          • Echo says:

            I’m 99% sure there’s no way to do anything involving brain extraction “safely”.

          • vV_Vv says:

            According to Wikipedia, functional hemispherectomy was introduced precisely because the previously practiced “anatomical” hemispherectomy, which actually involves removing half of the brain, causes all sorts of severe health complications that originate from having a huge void in your skull where cerebrospinal fluid accumulates.

            Anyway, still according to Wikipedia, functional hemispherectomy involves the removal of the temporal lobe of the affected hemisphere, thus it’s not like half of the brain is just left there disconnected from the outside world.

    • Nick Anyos says:

      Another implication is that if a hemisphere of a brain can function and experience consciousness independently of the other half does that mean that it would be possible to remove one hemisphere from a person and put it in to a different body and create two identical people? What if you reconnected two hemisphere from two different people? Would it created a merged person or two separate people that could communicate with other? The more I think about this more I’m aware how much I don’t understand consciousness.

      • Adam Casey says:

        Splitting hemispheres seems to produce two different sets of personalities from what I’ve heard.

      • Creutzer says:

        They wouldn’t be identical. They would likely have some personality differences and might disagree about religion.

      • Paul Torek says:

        No need to provide different bodies. See Stanislaw Lem’s Peace on Earth. Or consider the split-brain patient who, with one arm, tried to embrace his wife, while the other held her off. Or consider the experimental monkeys who, when food was placed in one hand, would sometimes engage in a tug of war with the other hand trying to seize it.

    • Fazathra says:

      Presumably you could put the hemispherectomy patient in an MRI scanner and look to see if there is any residual activation in the disconnected hemisphere. From what I vaguely remember from a neuroscience class I once took, I think most brain regions degenerate pretty fast once they are devoid of stimulation – months at most, probably less. Though from the perspective of the “trapped consciousness” inside, if there is one, that could be worse.

    • onyomi says:

      I thought that, rather than becoming one normal person and one sensory-deprived person in the same body, split brain patients became sort of like two separate people living in the same body? Aren’t there stories of like, the person picking out their clothes and finding that the other side of their body has picked out a different set of clothes?

      Or is it that with this particular type of hemispherectomy they not only sever the corpus collosum, but also connections to eyes, nose, ears, etc? And if they do that, presumably to prevent the “two minds, one body” problem, that is kind of horrifying–either way, really, but probably especially if they leave the disconnected hemisphere intact.

      • Peter says:

        I think hemispherectomy is different from the split-brain thing.

        I thought that the thing with split brain patients is that if you don’t put them in clever experimental setups, they manage to function reasonably well as one; well, as reasonably as might be expected from a person who needed major neurosurgery.

        Apparently one thing that people sometimes observe is split brain patients twisting their head from side to side, or (I may be misremembering entirely) looking at their hands, or whatever. The theory is that this is trying to keep the two hemispheres in sync, and to route signals from one half to the other by whatever means are available. If you’re a fan of the extended mind point of view, putting such a person in a cunning experimental rig could be said to re-sever their mind again? I’m speculating wildly here.

      • Muga Sofer says:

        That’s pretty much exactly what this is.

        (Well, they do it because NOT severing all the connections increases the chance of siezures, not because the “two minds” thing is annoying. But otherwise yes.)

    • Anon says:

      I read up on hemispherectomies after reading that post. In a lot of places I read about them removing the hemisphere entirely and having the cavity fill with cerebrospinal fluid (see e.g:




      From the last article linked:

      “His doctors discovered that they had left a small piece of the excised hemisphere in the child’s head. It was, said Freeman, no larger than the top joint of his thumb. But the electricity from that piece of neural tissue was enough to compromise the remaining hemisphere. The boy had another operation, a “redo,” as the doctors at Johns Hopkins informally call it, in which the bad piece of brain was removed.”

      I haven’t found evidence online for the hemisphere being disconnected but left in place as being the common practice in hemispherectomy. That is not to say that such evidence does not exist, of course… but I cannot easily find it, as a non-expert. I would greatly appreciate any links that would discuss the procedure actually leaving the hemisphere disconnected but in place. I am not a neuroscientist, surgeon, doctor, or other domain-expert in this field so my reading has been limited to pop-sci and other nontechnical literature, which is almost certainly dumbed down and out of date or possibly wrong entirely.

      The only place I’ve seen so far which discusses leaving the tissue inside the person are Scott’s post and the reddit post that inspired it.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Have you tried wikipedia? The key phrase is functional hemispherectomy. It has the same function as removal without being a real removal (“-ectomy”). That variant is Carson’s contribution. Replacing it with fluid produces many physical problems; solving them by not removing the tissue made it a lot more popular.

    • Careless says:

      Oh Jebus, that’s horrifying.

    • Setsize says:

      I am not sure what connections are actually severed in a functional hemispherectomy. However, it is known that some influence from the “reticular activating system” in the brain stem is a necessary condition for awakeness (cats who have only this tract severed never display any behavioral or EEG signs of wakefulness; cats whose cortex is disconnected from auditory input but RAS is left alone will wake in response to loud sounds, despite being functionally deaf otherwise.)

  2. Eric says:

    If you could get a short survey distributed to thousands of people (I can), what research question would you be interested in getting answered?

    • Torpendous says:

      How people would modify the personalities of their children if genetic engineering became possible. Say survey results show that 10% of the population wants a kid who will be successful at all costs, even if that means the kid has sociopathic tendencies. Then we should avoid researching the genetics for altruism (because that allows you to have a kid with sociopathic tendencies by deleting all the altruism genes).

      Basically, which genetic dials will be used in desirable ways if we give them to parents?

      The Hexaco personality framework might be a useful place to start.

      • Nornagest says:

        I really doubt altruism lies on a spectrum with sociopathy such that you can get a sociopath by deleting all the altruism genes. I doubt even more that you’d get anything remotely adaptive if you could.

        • Torpendous says:

          Well substitute in selfishness for psychopathy then? Suppose that selfish people are better at making money on wall street, so some parents might choose to remove altruism genes in their kids because they want to give birth to a successful banker. Anyway, that’s just an illustrative example.

          • Totally agree. Evidence like this is really important. I think there could be a new set of coordination problems where reasonable-seeming individual control over a child’s genetics, applied systematically, creates serious negative consequences for that generation and beyond. Far smaller changes (eg. China’s one-child policy) had drastic sociological effects, so caution is reasonable.

          • rose says:

            why would you suppose selfish people are better at wall street? wouldn’t being smart in math and having good judgment about markets be more associated with success?

          • Careless says:

            Not mutually exclusive, Rose

      • Deiseach says:

        When you think of all the ways that could go horribly wrong – no parent is going to say “Sure I want a winner at all costs kid” but most parents will say “I want my kid to be successful”.

        Parents who, with the best intentions, want a smarter, taller, nicer, successful, athletically and mentally high-achieving, etc. etc. etc. kid – it reminds me of the Robocop movie where every pressure group and concerned citizens got to say what they wanted included in the cyborg programming, to the extent that it rendered him incapable of action.

      • rose says:

        is there any evidence that sociopathy is associated with success? I would think most successful people need to have leadership and team building skills.

        I have cousin who seems to have sociopathy in her family, and they are losers – trying to get rich quick by manipulating people or the system, not understanding how things really work.

        • There are presumably different kinds of sociopath. I can see how they could be grouped under lack of inhibition, but some just lack inhibitions against hurting people, while others are so uninhibited that they can’t follow through on long term plans, or even be cautious enough to keep from getting caught.

        • Jacksologist says:

          Based on no data at all, my guess would be that the very, very top “successful” positions are disproportionately sociopathic, but the average successful person is not. Just as lottery winners are disproportionately bad at math, but overall people with better math skills have more money, so sociopathy strikes me as a high risk/high reward strategy.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Empirically, the cluster of people that psychiatrists refer to as psychopaths is made up of high time preference criminals with chronic backstabbing disorder who look far more like Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady from On the Road than the ultra-badass Professor Quirrell from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. In other words, they don’t look at all like regular people whose ability to empathize has been shut off without any other side effects. However, I have heard a theory that these hypothetical high-functioning psychopaths exist, but are hard to study because they reliably avoid ending up in psychiatric care. I don’t think I buy it.

        • Torpendous says:

          It’s not necessary for sociopathy to actually be a path to riches, it’s only necessary for people to believe it is. You could imagine that if your cousin was given access to genetic engineering tech, they might deliberately choose to enhance the sociopathy of their children (to help with the get rich quick schemes), in addition to enhancing the intelligence of their children. Bam, hyperintelligent sociopaths.

          It might be interesting to ask people subcomponent questions, such as “do you have to be nasty to get ahead” and “would you genetically engineer your children to get ahead”, in addition to the bigger question “would you genetically engineer your children to be nasty”.

          BTW, I’ve repeatedly heard people I respect say that most politicians are sociopaths… not sure how much credence to assign to this.

        • Careless says:

          I have heard a theory that these hypothetical high-functioning psychopaths exist, but are hard to study because they reliably avoid ending up in psychiatric care. I don’t think I buy it.

          Why don’t you buy it? I’m a high-functioning Aspergers case, and you’d have to try pretty hard to figure that out if I decided I wanted to hide it

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          What makes you think sociopaths are bad at social interaction/leadership/teamwork?

          One of the traditional markers of sociopathy is charisma.

          Would you like to know what that feels like, from the inside?

          It feels like you’re a perfectly polished mirror, capable of reflecting the innermost desires of anyone. Who you are varies according to who is around you – you become what they want to see, as naturally and easily as breathing. You can make anyone like you, you can make anyone love you – or at least the you that you represent at that point in time. Everything about you changes – you’re better at math around some people, better at speaking around others. Your talents change according to the expectations of those around you, expectations which control you even as you control them.

          You can manipulate anybody into anything, you just have to become the person they would do that for. You never lose interpersonal conflicts, and people always come away from attacking you feeling like bad people for having done so.

          The real you exists only when you’re alone, because you could no more stop being that perfect mirror than you could stop breathing. Sanity requires a considerable amount of time alone.

          • Torpendous says:

            Orphan Wilde are you speaking from experience? Your description sounds fascinating.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Torpendous
            “Orphan Wilde are you speaking from experience? ”

            I was wondering that too; and if so, should we believe it?

    • hawkice says:

      I have been noodling this for a couple days:

      How well do opinions on torture, veganism, and abortion represent good proxies for “Can a life be so full of suffering that it should not be lived at all?” It occurs to me that some Right-wing (American) views seem to implicitly suggest “No, even lives full of suffering are gifts” and many Left-wing (American) views suggest “Yes, it is better to avoid lives full of high levels of suffering even existing”. Hence veganism: there would be fewer cows — is that good for cows, to simply subtract those who may experience terrible lives? Is it an unassailable good to have a child, even to parents who may not be able to take care of them? Is torture a fate worse than death, to be treated as carefully as weapons of mass destruction?

      I am curious because (without getting into specifics of my opinions over time) I read a book which changed my view on the question of whether you can have so much suffering that a life may not be worth living. It was before I knew about Less Wrong or anything, which means it might be a good tool to actual persuade average people. But that is only true IF those policy questions are predicted by the philosophical one. If not, then this strategy is probably useless.

      • Jiro says:

        Remember previous posts about understanding one’s opponents’ opinions in their own terms. The right opposes abortions because they consider fetuses to be people. To them, an abortion is not a question about “should a life not be lived”, it’s “should an already existing life be ended”, something to which most people have a different answer. Likewise, meat-eaters don’t consider animals’ experiences to be morally relevant (or possibly even to exist at all), so questions of whether reducing the number of cows decreases cow suffering isn’t even relevant, because cow suffering is irrelevant or doesn;t exist.

        • James says:

          I suppose it’s possible that the right might start from the position that abortion is wrong on the grounds you mention—that the foetus is an already existing life which would be ended—and then adopt the position that all lives are worth living in order to avoid biting a bullet. (I don’t claim that this actually happened, though.)

          Likewise, meat-eaters don’t consider animals’ experiences to be morally relevant (or possibly even to exist at all)

          I don’t think this is true of all meat-eaters, though I admit it might be a majority. I wonder how many.

          • Mark says:

            Being anti-abortion probably correlates pretty strongly with being anti-euthanasia, thinking that even horrible lives still have positive value (or are owned by God, rather than the individual involved, so you’re not allowed to end it even if it is negative utility.)

            I think animal suffering has some moral weight, and I’d have thought almost all meat-eaters in the modern west would agree with me, look at attitudes to vivisection. Although other cultures may not agree, if the stories of recreational cat-burning are true.

          • Being anti-abortion doesn’t correlate strongly with being anti-capital punishment , though.

          • Anonymous says:

            Why should it? Capital punishment is for-fault, abortion is no-fault.

          • Mike says:


            Ah, and there’s the real break in moral systems. “Thou shalt not kill” vs “Thou Shalt Not Murder.”

            Setting aside the practical and quantitative difficulties of any current-real world applications.

          • Publius Varinius says:


            “Being anti-abortion doesn’t correlate strongly with being anti-capital punishment , though.”

            Which is exactly what you would expect from those that believe that horrible lives have positive value.

        • eh says:

          I present the following steelmanned arguments:

          A) “A cow’s net happiness is greater than that of the undomesticated animals it replaces”

          B) “The average happiness of cows is greater than the average happiness of undomesticated animals”

          C) “A cow’s happiness is greater than zero, and the moral obligation we have towards cows is only to provide them with lives that are worth living, not the maximise their utility”

          D) “Situations which would cause significant suffering for a human, such as being raped once every year then having one’s children taken and killed, do not cause such suffering in cows, due to psychological differences between r-selected and K-selected species”

          E) “While farming in general is immoral, the specific farms from which I source my meat are moral for reasons laid out in A through D”

          F) “While factory farming in general is immoral, I raise my own animals in a way which is moral for reasons laid out in A through D”

          A seems weak, B seems a little stronger, C is strong but requires the acceptance of a possibly repugnant moral philosophy, D through F are modifications of the first three arguments.

          • Esquire says:

            I don’t know if you’re interested in the folk argument as opposed to the utilitarian calculus, but I think the real folk argument is like this:

            Nature is full of meat-eating creatures, and nature is basically OK, though admittedly some parts seem ooky up close. I feel like a meat-eating creature and it is OK for me to act out my nature as my ancestors did and as my community does. (Though again I admit that there is ookiness inherent.)

            Maybe this is too obvious to be interesting, but FWIW.

          • keranih says:

            I’m struggling with the statement in D, as I find it factually weak, as the behavior of cattle towards breeding is very poorly mapped on to ‘rape’, “wild” cattle breed yearly under “natural” conditions, and cows are, like humans and other mammals, K species. (There is room to argue that poultry, rabbits and swine are more r than humans and cattle, but not a great deal, esp compared to trout, etc). This isn’t so much steelmanning as taking a strawman seriously, (if I’m understanding the use of the terms correctly).

            Associated with this, I would like to see more support for the assertion of immorality of “factory farming” – to me, this is not entirely a well-founded conclusion.

          • Anonymous says:

            This is roughly my view, but I would make some modifications.

            A) and B) – the complication is in how a farm might change the level of sentience from the wild animals that would have existed in its absence. This might be a good thing or a bad thing. If a field of cows has more sentience than a field not full of cows, as I suspect it does (even taking into account the use of the other resources involved), and those cows are living lives worth living, that is a utility gain. The interesting point is that it’s more of a utility gain than the same field with fewer cows. In other words, you have to take into account differences in utility value between different species, as well as the conditions the individuals are in.

            C) – I don’t think this is necessary. Even if you think you have a moral obligation to maximize aggregate utility using your preferred definitions of what counts, it’s unlikely that maximizing the utility of cows is the best way to achieve this. Perhaps it would be better to do what Scott does: eat cruel factory-farmed meat and then donate extra money to compensate.

            I suspect that if you were serious about living your life in a way that maximizes aggregate utility, you would not eat meat, but only because it’s expensive and the resources you spend on meat from animals kept in pleasant conditions would gain more utiles being spent on Third World children. But since almost nobody who feels they have this obligation actually follows it, it seems like a moot point. You should stop eating ethically farmed meat when you also stop spending any money on luxuries for yourself rather than donating everything you own.

            My views on D) have been addressed by keranih.

            E) – I don’t think it’s useful to say that ‘farming in general’ is immoral. “The modal farm animal that exists today is raised in conditions that are immoral”, sure. But the terms I would use would be the opposite: there is absolutely nothing inherently immoral in farming. Certain methods of farming are immoral, but the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea of farming seems to be based on emotional reasoning (e.g. inability to consider as moral anything that involves intentional killing).

            Also, I think the question of hunting is different and also interesting. When you kill a deer, it dies, probably with less suffering than it would have experienced dying in the wild. Other deer that relied on it (its family members, its herd, etc.) would suffer in its absence. Other deer that didn’t rely on it (competitors for food) would benefit from its absence. Predators would suffer from its absence. But predators suffering would help the other deer.

            Perhaps hunting only makes a difference if you are doing it often enough to make a significant difference in the size of the population? But even then, I’m not sure if there’s any good argument about what kind of moral effect your actions might have, beyond the one solid point regarding death to hunter being likely a swifter, kinder death than death to predators/starvation/disease/injury.

          • rose says:

            wild herbivores die horribly deaths, either death from exposure and starvation, or more usually, torn apart and eaten while still living. I speak as someone who has seen both wolves and grizzlies in action. grizzlies teach their young how to hunt by giving them a live elk calf and letting them maul and bite it for hours.

          • Esquire says:

            @rose – if that’s a response to my “folk view”, i think basically the folk view’s response is: “yep, life’s a bitch”.

            what you describe is more or less exactly what i was trying to evoke with the word “ooky”. i think it is not nearly as uniformly accepted as many internet utilitarians think that pain/suffering is the ultimate ill. like… if you make people choose between giving up nature (with all its herbivore torment) or utilitarianism, intuition will tell them that nature wins easily.

            and anecdotally, aversion to pain/suffering does not actually seem to be the dominant force in human decisionmaking. many women prefer to forego anesthesia in childbirth, for example. many men join the military. and i think it’s fair to say that in both cases a feeling of “moral rightness” attaches to the decision.

        • hawkice says:

          So, I believe you’ve inverted my causal direction inadvertently, in a way that weakens my point subtly and critically. I’m not saying people have an answer to a larger philosophical question (or have even thought about it), and think about the general principle when making up their minds on specific topics, leading to a strong correlation between these things.

          My thinking was, I viewed death as the worst thing. I read a book (Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card), and was persuaded (at least for a while) that there are fates worse than death. This allowed me to grasp at valid but uncommon reasons to be more circumspect about policies like veganism, which seemed pretty pointless before (if death is the worst thing, showing me pictures of animal suffering is a total waste of time — we are already doing the worst thing to them, who cares if we tack on a couple minutes of extra bad, it’s a rounding error — and if someone attempts to persuade you through emotionally salient but irrelevant arguments, they are pretty safe to ignore).

          So my goal isn’t to say: People believe X because they disagree with me about Y, I can persuade them about Y and crush belief X and then my team will win forever!

          My goal is to say: People are 100% talking past each other. I do not believe e.g. vegans would starve to death if we could prove to their satisfaction potatoes suffer (sacrificing their one human life for the many). I do not believe that left-wing people would react in a completely life-changing way if we showed sperm and eggs can suffer even before insemination. What I do believe is that these conversations center around empathy. We all understand empathy, and sometimes you are talking to a potato and sometimes it’s a cute puppy. Sometimes it’s a terrorist. We all have limits to our empathy (and I’m placing my bets empathizing with the potato is a waste of time). Thinking about suffering, no matter where you draw the lines, means people will converge on a relatively coherent disagreement, instead of talking past each other. If I could redefine discussions so that both sides address issues like this, I hardly even care what conclusion they come to. THAT is the persuasion I mean.

          n.b. It’s important to remember you’re comment is somewhat non-responsive as well. Euthanasia and abortion could be seen as two sides of this same coin. Whether the “person” is “alive” has absolutely no bearing on the larger question, which is: Is Alive + Extreme Suffering < Dead for some amount of suffering? In fact, if the fetus is 100% definitely NOT alive, my construction makes less sense, because a potential person never existing is different than that person existing for a while and then dying. [And while ~ everyone opposes murder, if a poor person is desperately dependent on the charity of a wealthy benefactor, few people would say we should arrest the benefactor if he stops supporting them. We make social allowances for situations of complete dependence being different than murder.]

          • Deiseach says:

            if the fetus is 100% definitely NOT alive

            You have an error there. If the foetus is not alive, there is no necessity for an abortion, because you are talking about stillbirth or miscarriage.

            I think what you mean is “If the foetus is a person” 🙂

          • Jiro says:

            What I do believe is that these conversations center around empathy.

            No, they don’t., not in a nontrivial way. People disagree on these issues because they disagree on whether there is something there to have empathy with. Someone who opposes abortion because fetuses are people isn’t thinking about whether it’s worth it to bring a suffering person into existence–he thinks the person is already in existence.

          • hawkice says:

            > People disagree on these issues because they disagree on whether there is something there to have empathy with.

            This is what I meant by my comment. I had a whole thing about potatoes that I now realize did not, in fact, make that clearer.

        • Tibor says:

          Also consider the fact that an animal’s life might be worth living even if it is ultimately killed for meat (or fur,or whatever…I don’t think the animals care for the reasons) provided that the conditions under which it lives are sufficiently good. This might not the case of industrial farming, but it probably is the case of biofarming. If there were “before-life” and someone offered me to live 20 years of quite fine life and then be killed (without having a clue that that is what were in store for me the whole time) or else never to be born, I would have definitely taken the option to live. Then veganism is at best a lesser evil, but not a moral good.

      • Deiseach says:

        How does torture come into this, unless you mean “a life so full of suffering we consider it torture or it is the equivalent of being tortured”?

        Torture is wrong in itself, even in the “ticking bomb” scenario (and the way that’s been used as an apologia by “enhanced interrogation” enthusiasts has probably contributed to my general distaste for the Trolley Problem thought-experiment devisers; here we have people who are actually putting the Trolley Problem solution into action – ‘why yes I would push the fat man off the bridge and not alone push him, I’d break his legs and arms first so he couldn’t even crawl off the tracks out of the path of the runaway train!’)

        Line on torture from the Catechism:

        Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.

        In fact, that whole section covers pretty much all your topics.

        Re: euthanasia – are you bound to use every medical method to avoid death? No, you are not bound to use extreme methods. When death is inevitable, you are not required to suffer on. But deliberately ending life is not the same thing.

        • hawkice says:

          > When death is inevitable, you are not required to suffer on. But deliberately ending life is not the same thing.

          This is a peculiar phrasing. I am still trying to figure out whether “Death is always inevitable” is an actual argument or a pun. It may be just a pun, but it certainly feels convincing. How sure are you this is a distinction that is relevant to e.g. suicide of a healthy human? It certainly is how the general principle (in Catholic circles, at least) is expressed, but I’m not sure it’s a principle so much as an appeal to use judgment in deciding how much suffering is too much, or if such a thing even exists.

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, for the moment, death is inevitable. But I should explain the phrasing.

            Say someone is suffering from cancer. Their options are:

            Option one: six months’ treatment with chemotherapy/radiotherapy, which will not cure them but which will extend their life by an extra couple of months.

            Pro: they live nine months or twelve months instead of six

            Con: they suffer all the side-effects of that treatment (and they can be pretty bad; my mother only underwent one bout of chemo and it was so bad she refused more, which the hospital were happy to agree with because the chemo wasn’t going to do anything for her beyond the ‘maybe it’ll slow it down a bit’) so the extra three months are wretched

            Option two: they refuse further treatment because the extra three months will be wretched

            Con: they die in six months, not nine or twelve

            Pro: with decent hospice care/pain management, these last six months can be tolerable or even decent

            Both options: the cancer is going to kill you, it’s just sooner in one case, later in another

            Catholicism says you can, in these circumstances, refuse treatment. It is not suicide or euthanasia to refuse to undergo further treatment where it would be futile, even if it extends your life. You are not obligated to cling on to life to the very last second.

            Difference between the above and euthanasia: deciding to commit suicide (or ask for physician-assisted suicide) while still far from the point of death, and sometimes not to avoid intolerable suffering but to maintain absolute control over one’s circumstances, or sometimes in circumstances where not death but a diminution or degradation of physical or mental faculties is the end being avoided.

        • Thanks for the point that ticking bomb problems are actually trolley problems.

          What’s the history of the Catholic Church’s position on torture?

          • Deiseach says:

            What’s the history of the Catholic Church’s position on torture?

            “Wibbly” is probably the most charitable interpretation. Technically, church courts didn’t torture, they handed over the accused to the secular arm of government to do that*. Possibly a distinction that is no distinction. The Catechism is a little mealy-mouthed on this (I wish we’d admit we mucked up on this, along with the other human crap we pulled; it really isn’t good enough to say “But everyone else was doing it!”):

            2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

            *And before everyone jumps up and says “The Spanish Inquisition”, kindly note: the Spanish Inquisition. Distinct from the Venetian and Roman Inquisitions. Both Spain and Venice were as much, or even more, politics under the guise of religion. Roman one is now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

          • Jiro says:

            Both Spain and Venice were as much, or even more, politics under the guise of religion.

            That sounds like No True Scotsman. It doesn’t count because it’s not *really* the Church’s position, it’s politics. Non-Catholics generally don’t care much about whether something done by the Church was done through the hierarchy in the doctrinally correct manner, but rather how things actually played out in practice. It’s clear that people at the time believed the Inquisition was done in accordance with the rules of the Church.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The Spanish Inquisition was controlled by the Crown and defied Rome. It was Protestant.

          • brad says:

            Under what bizarre definition can something that started before Martin Luther was born be called Protestant? Was Judas Protestant too?

          • Jacksologist says:

            One could legitimately call the Hussites proto-Protestants, about a hundred years before Luther. The Spanish Inquisition? No.

        • Muga Sofer says:

          >Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.

          That doesn’t include ticking-time-bomb scenarios.

          (In fact, by the Principle of Double Effect, torturing someone to save lives is acceptable – as long as you’re not doing it for revenge, right?)

          • Peter says:

            I’m not sure double effect works that way. Certainly not the way many people use it. Although it does seem to be a bit of a slippery concept.

            So people sometimes cite double effect in trolley problems, rationalising switching being OK and pushing being wrong. With switching, the one person being hit by a trolley isn’t how the five are saved – if he gets word in time and dodges out of the way, so much the better. In other words, the one guy getting run over is a mere side effect. On the other hand, when the fat guy gets pushed onto the tracks, him getting hit by the trolley is kind of the point – if he dodges, then you may as well have pushed him.

            So with torture – the pain and other ill effects of torture aren’t mere side effects, they’re how the torture works. So double effect seems not to apply.

            (Of course, this complicates self-defence a bit. However there’s still the issue of shooting to stop vs shooting to kill. At this point my inner cynic says, “yeah, well, with enough fine distinctions you can rationalise anything” and a different inner wossname says, “try getting by without fine distinctions!” and a fight breaks out.)

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s not how PODE works. The act itself would need to be at least morally neutral. Torture is not a morally neutral act.

            If you had a button that you could press to simultaneously
            a) get a fat man tortured by a mechanical apparatus,
            b) save five other people from a trolley,
            if you had to other viable recourse then PODE would kick in, enabling you to attempt saving those people by pressing the button that would also have the fat man tortured, provided you did not intend him harm and would take an option that excluded his torture if it were available.

      • onyomi says:

        I will say that my moderate opposition to (late-term, non-medically necessary) abortions is at least partially predicated on the view that the vast majority of human lives, especially in the 21st c. US, end up having net positive value from the perspective of those living them, even when they are growing up in a poor family, a foster home, etc.

        • Jiro says:

          Opposition to abortion that is based on future people should lead you to oppose any and all things that lead to the future people not existing, including birth control and abstinence. It leads to Monty Python’s Every Sperm is Sacred, unless “partially predicated on” means “predicated on a little bit but not enough to matter much”.

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t see why the position that *some* information about future potential for moral agency should be taken into account commits me to the extreme position that *any* potential moral agent is as important as a full-fledged adult.

            Almost everyone already takes the intuitive middle ground, which is that some consideration of potential is taken into account, but that future potential must be discounted to a greater or lesser degree against needs of currently existing humans depending on how strong the potential and how great the need.

            Pigs are as smart as 3 year olds but we obviously don’t view eating pork as morally equivalent to murdering 3 year old humans. It’s not that 3 year old humans have more agency than pigs, but that they’re more like us and we expect a lot more of them in the future than we expect of a pig.

            Another example of the middle road: most people consider murdering a pregnant woman as somewhat more heinous than murdering a non pregnant woman (if a pregnant woman were on death row, I’d bet she’d be allowed to give birth before being executed), yet we also don’t view murdering a post-menopausal woman as somehow not as bad as murdering a younger woman, and, indeed, murdering an old lady is worse than aborting a recently-conceived zygote, but maybe not worse than murdering a young child (which might be worse than the old lady due to “she had her whole life ahead of her” type concerns).

            Regarding need, I think even most pro-lifers would be against sacrificing the mother (a full grown adult with rich experiences, memories, etc.) to save the fetus, but I don’t think it makes me a hypocrite to be okay with aborting the fetus to save the life of the mother but not okay with aborting the fetus to avoid inconveniencing the mother. The needs of the potential human get less value than the needs of the existing one, but the need to live gets more value than the need to not be inconvenienced.

          • Cauê says:

            Opposition to abortion that is based on future people should lead you to oppose any and all things that lead to the future people not existing, including birth control and abstinence. It leads to Monty Python’s Every Sperm is Sacred

            At most it would only go as far as Every Egg Is Sacred, as that would be the limiting factor, no?

            In seriousness, though, I’m not satisfied with any answer I’ve seen on the subject so far, and every position seems to have weird and unintuitive consequences.

            My problem with the way you put it may be better shown by a thought experiment: if I were to ask “why is death bad? what is lost? how is the world where someone died worse than the one where they didn’t?”, my answer would be “other than the effects on other people, for the one who dies what is being lost are future experiences”. And if that’s the loss*, it’s hard to see a sharp moral difference at any point in life, including birth.

            (*I’ve seen somebody propose “violation of preferences” as something like an answer to this question in a previous thread. I’m intrigued, but it seems to create its own problems)

            (you may notice that this also leads naturally to support for euthanasia and abortion of, say, an anencephalic fetus)

            It’s this “what’s lost?” question, and the focus on the one dying rather than the ones left, that makes the “is it a person?” question look so pointless to me. The label is in the map, the loss (whatever it is) is in the territory.

            But, intuitively at least, I do see a sharp break at conception, because of the sheer number of different possible outcomes prior to it, which collapse immensely after it. If I play “what would be different if somebody killed me today or yesterday” and keep going back, at that point I find “no, by then my life was already phenomenally unlikely, all they’d be taking from me would be the very small shot I had at it” (an analogy could be the difference between someone burning your lottery ticket after it won, and someone burning all tickets before the winner is known). Is this morally significant? I don’t know, I’m not very comfortable with it, but that’s also true of all approaches I’ve seen.

        • Anonymous says:

          I think the validity of this depends on whether abortion does or does not decrease the number of people who exist. In other words, the pro-choice person would argue that what abortion actually leads to is not a person who would have existed not existing, but an unhappy person not existing, and a happy person existing in their place, via the parents having a child a few years later when they are in a better position to care for them and set them up for a good life.

          • onyomi says:

            But I don’t think anyone can plausibly argue that legal and/or socially acceptable abortion leads to fewer total people existing than otherwise would, as for every family who aborts a child conceived at a bad time only to have a child conceived later, there is a family who would have had zero children or fewer children but for an unexpected pregnancy.

          • rose says:

            but if an unwanted child was given up for adoption, you would have 3 happy people – the baby and the two sterile parents.

            i don’t think being for abortion has much to do with whether the unborn child would be happy – it is about the woman being happier if she is not pregnant, and having the right to kill her own fetus to protect her own happiness.

    • Sam says:

      What percentage of people have (claimed) experiences of the supernatural, and what forms those experiences take (supernatural healing, spiritual warfare, favorable coincidence).

    • Deiseach says:

      If you’re cohabiting, why aren’t you married?

      Genuinely, I don’t understand this when people are together over a long period of time, have a couple of kids, are married in every way except the piece of paper – why not marry? The whole bloody marriage equality campaign was banging on about all the legal and social rights marriage gave people and the conveniences that those who could marry had over those who could not, so why not go to the damn registry office, fill out the forms and make it official?

      People who are only together for anything up to six months and then break up are a different matter, of course. But if you’re living together for three years, why not go the whole hog and get married? Whatever the hassle of divorce, surely there is equal hassle in sorting out mortgages, child custody and all the rest of it for the cohabiting-but-not-married when they split up, and at least with marriage we already have a system in place for handling all this.

      • Anonymous says:

        I can imagine a few reasons:
        – It’s not required. If fornication were illegal, then there’d be an incentive.
        – It’s not socially frowned upon.
        – Divorce laws are famously complete bullshit, while cohabitation laws are murky and undefined. It may not be common knowledge that cohabitation may be treated as defacto marriage by the courts.
        – Cohabitation may actually be a superior option, under legal circumstances, because of insane marriage laws.
        – In terms of popular opinion, men think that women are needy, lazy, complainy bitches, whereas women think men are irresponsible, childish, weak douchebags. Both may want to keep the option of leaving the relationship if their partner turns out to fulfill the stereotypes about their sex, even if they don’t at the moment.

        • Deiseach says:


          – Divorce is so easy nowadays, you can get divorce at will with no fault on the part of the other spouse and against their wish to remain married, so nobody is being forced to remain in a relationship against their will

          – Cohabitation law is murky, while divorce law may be a pain in the arse but is established. Trying to figure out “If Joe paid 2/5ths of the mortgage and then Joe and Mary as a couple paid a further 1/5th together but then Joe stayed at home as a house-husband, who gets the family home and who is legally bound to continue the repayments” is trickier when the couple are co-habitants not married. It really is a massive pain in the neck gathering up the various bits of paper involved in all kinds of applications, as I see from the day job, while being married at least cuts through some of the red tape

          – But but but hospital visitation! estate rights! joint tax returns! the children! the pets! Seriously, all the campaigning for marriage equality was (apart from the appeal to Wuv Twu Wuv) based on how wunnerful simplee wunnerful that lil’ piece o’paper was for giving you all kinds of legal rights and next-of-kin and how same-sex couples were suffering in agony the torments of the damned for lack of same.

          If that is true (and not just political campaigning perish the thought there might have been a smidgeon of over-exaggeration or gilding the lily for maximum heart-tugging effect there), then co-habiting couples are missing out on a barrow-load of economic and other goodies by not tying the knot

          – You’ve been living together for ten years and have four kids, three cats and a mortgage. Feck’s sake, give us the day out! 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            Contra contra:
            – There is still social stigma about divorce. If you divorce, future potential partners are going to look at you very, very carefully, since you’ve already broken one promise. If you simply split up from a unformalized relationship, you can avoid some of that flak.
            – Marriage carries the expectation of a ceremony (although I think it’s fading too), which is incredibly, harmfully expensive. How are you going to afford that with student loans on your back?

          • Deiseach says:

            Contra contra contra 🙂

            – Don’t have a big, expensive ceremony. You do not need a fairytale day out. Be realistic (granted, this is swimming against the tide in our society which has made romantic love the be-all and end-all, and where the fantasy of the Big Wedding to the One True Love and the princess for a day nonsense is promulgated)

            – The stigma of divorce probably only applies to certain classes where they are more likely to marry, anyway. For people where it is commonplace to shack up and engage in serial monogamy, would it not be more beneficial to them personally and to society as a whole to encourage the stability of marriage?

            – Makeshift law is being fudged up around cohabitation; people are not engaging in Free Love then rationally parting and coming to sensible arrangements when the affair burns out. If you’re going to be running to the courts anyway for a child custody order, order on the disposal of property, etc. why not do so under the aegis of divorce?

            – Is there no stigma in being in a long-term relationship and then breaking up? Would future partners not wonder why you were living with someone for ten years but never committed?

          • chaosmage says:

            While I for one agree and enjoy marriage, I’ve heard people not getting married because

            – It feels old-fashioned; most people don’t realize you can literally celebrate any way you want.
            – They haven’t seen any marriage that did not end in divorce. Most unmarried relationships end in something other than death too, but their ends aren’t as salient.
            – They wanted to keep the option to give citizenship to somebody via marriage.

            I assume some poly people don’t want it because they disagree with the notion of primary and secondary relationships, but I haven’t heard that argued in earnest.

          • Error says:

            “Seriously, all the campaigning for marriage equality was … based on how wunnerful simplee wunnerful that lil’ piece o’paper was for giving you all kinds of legal rights”

            Was it? My impression looking in from the outside was that legal rights were the motte. The bailey was wanting gay relationships socially recognized and treated as just as legitimate as straight ones. In Hansonion terms, they wanted status.

            I didn’t pay that much attention, but I suspect that was the true rejection on the other side, too. “We don’t want these relationships legitimized in any way.”

            I’m in the odd position of disliking the institution of marriage but still being glad the gay lobby won.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m sorry, did you mean to post this as a reply elsewhere?

        • Anonymous says:

          “If you’re cohabiting, why aren’t you married?” sounds like a fine survey question to me.

        • Anonymous says:

          Sorry, brain malfunction there. Not sure why I didn’t consider it was for the survey. I should read more carefully.

        • Muga Sofer says:

          I think this is prompted by some discussions that have been going on here in Ireland – I had much the same conversation with someone just the other day, prompted by something they read in the paper on the subject.

      • I’ve heard that some people’s behavior toward their partner changes for the worse after they get married.

        If accurate, this is interesting in terms of game theory– I suppose small to medium-sized defections are easier to get away with if one’s partner is less inclined to punish and the cost of leaving has gone up.

        • This isn’t a weird theory, it is such a common idea that there are a million jokes in circulation about it and it is a staple of stand-up comedy since about it exists. Woman version: “How to turn a man into a pig? Marry him.” Man version: “How to stop having sex with your girlfriend? Marry her.”

      • Chalid says:

        I feel like the vast majority of cohabitors rent and don’t have kids? How common is it for people to actually go through significant risk and inconvenience to stay unmarried?

        I guess this is why a survey would help.

      • Emily H. says:

        Most people I know who have cohabitated long-term have done so because they didn’t want to marry someone unless they were very sure they could make it work long-term. (They also tended not to have mortgages or children yet).

        In my culture (Blue Tribe, middle-class) there’s a fair amount of social pressure to spend a lot of money on a wedding — like, $25,000 US — and a big chunk of that money usually comes from the parents. So you really want to avoid getting married multiple times in your life; it’s an embarrassment, it’s a burden on your parents, and it’s a huge expense. (Second weddings tend to be cheaper, but that’s all the more reason to save your first wedding for someone you’re going to grow old with, not that guy who turns out to be kind of a loser a couple years down the road). Cohabitation then becomes a space for figuring out if the person you’re currently dating is really The Person You’re Going To Spend The Rest Of Your Life With, or as a holding ground for relationships with people who you’re never really going to commit to but you don’t want to break up with.

        (A generalization: Blue Tribe people I know seem to think you can avoid an unhappy marriage by being very selective about who you marry, while Red Tribe people I know seem to think you don’t have to be so picky as long as you really commit to working on the marriage and putting up with your partner’s flaws.)

        • Deiseach says:

          If you are still with Mike or Sally after six years because eh, you’re not sure if they’re The One but nothing better has come along, then really you should either bite the bullet and marry or you should have broken up earlier.

          I do agree that marriage has become ridiculously expensive, but part of this is precisely this rubbish about The One, the Soulmate, the One I’ll Grow Old With. This exaltation of romantic and erotic love as the ultimate high, the meaning of life, the most valuable thing in the world, the best you’ll ever get, all your eggs in one basket because nothing is as good as sex and romantic love is tangled up with sex and friendship, family, work and other interests are all supposed to be subordinate to that, pale imitations (friendship in particular: much of the depth has been drained from it and shoved onto the romantic partner/spouse as the sharer of interests and sounding board and person with whom you have the meaningful connection).

          Nonsense. Is this the person who will scrub out the bins, is a better metric 🙂

        • It’s a way for a man to test a woman. When my girlfriend told me if we marry it should be cheap because we have furniture to buy and similar more important expenses (no chance of getting it paid for by our parents) and if I propose I should just get a cheap silver band, I started to think she is really the right one to marry, sane, responsible, non-selfish, not caring about social expectations, not having disney princess bullshit dreams and all that.

          If parents are really financing it that is a different story, although I really didn’t like the idea of vampiring our parents retirement funds, they spent enough on us when we were kids, but if it is not parents ,but rather the man burns six months income on giving his girlfriend Her Big Day that basically says everything about that relationship dynamic, his personality (hint: a Greek letter) and her attitude (irresponsible, selfish, too easily influenced by social expectations). Of course joint financing could be more popular in these days, but that will generally result in a modest wedding because people usually stop being stupid with money if they personally earned it.

      • JDG1980 says:

        I think that the financial aspect is often understated. The median U.S. wedding cost $18,086 in 2012. How many people don’t tie the knot because they can’t or won’t spend the price of a new car on a lavish party? Maybe we need a coordinated public campaign for more frugal wedding ceremonies. It would help a lot if some Hollywood celebrities could be convinced to start the trend.

        • keranih says:

          It is my impression that people who are comfortable putting off a wedding for a long time are willing to wait for a financially opportune time to spend that much money, while those who overtly put more emphasis on “marriage” than “wedding” do so in a much less expensive manner.

          I think one should also consider the influence of more affluent parents, who both exert pressure to spend more on the wedding and who help contribute to paying for it. This varies by both SES and generation – it is my impression that the women of the Boomers had their weddings planned by their parents, and expected to plan the weddings of their daughters, only to find that their daughters didn’t really share their expectations. I am less familiar with what Gen Y and Millennials experienced.

        • The Anonymouse says:

          Is this really true though? I see these ‘look how much the average wedding costs!’ posts, but I’ve been to a goodly number of weddings and none of them cost a fraction of the numbers bandied about.

          1) The Anonymouse’s friends are not representative.
          2) The extended wedding industry wants you to think weddings are crazy expensive, so you feel like you need one.
          2a) Media outlets like to decry how expensive weddings are, amusingly (and intentionally or unintentionally) anchoring people to the $25k wedding so that the (horrendously overpriced) $10k wedding feels like a deal.

          • Gamer Imp says:

            I think most of it is #1, but it’s worth noting too that it’s easy to underestimate the cost of a wedding you’ve attended. Many of the costs (venue, dress, decorations) are unnaturally expensive, simply by being associated with the wedding industry. A common example is a venue that costs $2k when booked for a “reunion party”, and $5k when booked for a “wedding”, even though no additional services are provided.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Gamer Imp

            A common example is a venue that costs $2k when booked for a “reunion party”, and $5k when booked for a “wedding”, even though no additional services are provided.

            That’s interesting. How would that be possible? My first guess: people are much much more particular about where they have their wedding than they are about where they have their reunion party, so each venue effectively gets to be a monopoly, or close to one, as each couple that wants to book it for their wedding simply could not accept getting married anywhere else and will pay whatever it takes to get that one acceptable venue.

          • Gamer Imp says:

            Yeah, I think you’ve nailed it. If a couple have settled on a wedding venue and invested it with the magical weight of wedding-ness, and then approached the negotiation of a rental price, they’re in a naturally very weak negotiating position.

          • RCF says:

            I think that most weddings cost more than $10,000, if you take into account the cost to guests. Unless all your guests live nearby, there’s going to be plane tickets and hotel rooms.

            And there are a lot of horror stories of divorces being expensive; Michael Newdow, for instance, was ordered to pay $300,000 for his ex-wife’s legal fees. I’ve seen figures like $15,000 for the average cost, although it’s not clear whether that’s only for contested divorces.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            The number of weddings is probably (at least) several dozen times greater than reunions. And reunions have very economical substitutions available: the relevant school gym, for example.

            Also, operating a venue has large fixed costs and small variable costs. Because the additional cost to the venue to vacuum the carpet is so small, discounts to fill otherwise undesirable time slots and attract cost sensitive consumers is an expected result.

      • CAE_Jones says:

        I’m pretty sure this doesn’t address the cases you’re thinking of, but there are scary legal/financial incentives. I’m only familiar with those in the US, but marriage can screw with health insurance, social security, taxes, etc, in ways that don’t keep up with the costs of healthcare, rent, etc.
        As for healthy, employed, made-it-past-the-infatuation-phase couples, for whom wellfare and healthcare are not so looming existential risks, I have no idea.

      • Kiya says:

        Among my young techie social set it’s pretty common to have met a romantic partner in college or grad school, cohabit with them for a few years, and then get married. The cohabiting phase provides time to grow into feeling “old enough” to get married and to make sure you actually enjoy living with the person long-term and won’t break up.

        This probably isn’t universal, but my cohabiting boyfriend and I keep our lives reasonably separable. We don’t have kids, and won’t unless/until we get married. We rent rather than own a house, and pay equal shares of rent (to be fair this would probably make financial sense even if we were married as the housing market in our area is kind of unreasonable). Marriage serves as a line to cross to indicate “now we are seriously planning to spend our whole lives together and can do things that would not make sense were that not the case.”

        I also knew someone in college whose parents weren’t officially married because it would have hurt them on taxes. Official marriage provides both benefits and drawbacks, these can matter to different extent to different people (e.g. hospital visitation rights are a lot more relevant if one of you is in the hospital), and it’s reasonable to want all couples to be able to marry if they think it’s right for them without necessarily thinking it’s right for you just now.

      • gattsuru says:

        – Marriage is exceptionally expensive, especially for straight people. In theory, you can elope for trivial costs (a marriage license in my state is less than a hundred bucks cash), but socially there are very large prohibitions against doing so. There is a tax marriage penalty within the United States, and it’s significant where one partner is low-income.

        – And while divorce is more accessible, it is not inexpensive. For my age cohort, there is a 15% chance of divorce within five years, and that’s not where things cut-off. No-fault divorce laws can still require bizarre living-apart time periods that are not cheap. Spousal support can take up large portions of income for years or decades. ‘Amicable’ divorces are rarer than hen’s teeth, and only ‘amicable’ by relative comparison. And increasingly many people have heard these horror stories — either as children of divorce themselves, or from children of divorce. Cohabitation laws can sometimes run into these topics in theory, but they virtually never do in practice.
        ((This is /less/ true for gay folk, since lavish marriage ceremonies and low-income housewives aren’t as much a thing among either gay men or lesbian women. It’s far from clear the family court will be better, though.))

        – Many of the benefits are less significant now. You can get a better mortgage!… which doesn’t help if you’re renting. Pushing raises or better positions toward married folk is frowned upon, rather than favored. Estate taxes are a really big deal if you have a significant estate, and mean nothing for the rest of the population.

        – Since there are a lot of folk cohabitating, the costs of non-marriage are lower. Renters treat cohabitation as near-identical to marriage, since that’s a big part of their market. Part of this was just the Left making big flashy political assessments out of things that didn’t matter or didn’t make sense, but the other side of things is that if you’re a small enough portion of the populace sometimes you need an Official Permission Slip to make clear you’re doing the same thing as everyone else. Hospital visitation rights aren’t a big deal to straight couples since hospitals are so used to straight unmarried folk that don’t even bother asking, but a guy asking about another guy wasn’t in the same boat. There were no high-profiles cases of wills being contested because someone’s straight lover must have been an undue influence during their illness.

        Marriage does matter if you have a vast number of shared resources — but many people, and almost all people you’ll see in social services, do not have that situation.

        • Chalid says:

          Small point: the US marriage tax penalty hits partners with equal income the hardest. Generally, partners with unequal income get tax advantages compared to if they remained single.

          • James says:

            The hardest hit are the couples with one spouse with income (High Earning) that places the union in the highest bracket, and one in the lowest, individual bracket (Low Earning). This causes earnings of the LE spouse to be taxed at the HE spouse’s high marginal rates.

          • brad says:

            On the other hand, the single largest benefit is exemption from the estate tax. It only hits a small percentage of marriages, but when it does it is a huge tax break.

            The tax code is too complicated to say there is a marriage penalty or bonus, there are features that point in either direction. It depends on individual circumstances which predominate.

          • Chalid says:

            @James In most cases that will be offset by the higher bracket thresholds so the high earner’s income is taxed less than it would have been.

            Though obviously words are the wrong medium for this discussion, when it can all be summed up in a simple 2d plot:


      • Emily says:

        Partnered for 6 years, cohabiting for 4. Not married because:

        1) I don’t really see how a piece of paper signed by a government person does anything to advance the status of my relationship. It’s ours and nobody else’s business.

        2) I like the idea that my partner and I don’t need to make grand (and statistically speaking, nearly empty) promises to stay with each other no matter what. The notion that every morning we both wake up and think “yep, this person still makes me happy” is kind of romantic to me.

        3) I trust my partner and I believe that if we were to split up we would do so as amicably and as fairly as possible, no court intervention needed. I also appreciate the fact that evidently my partner trusts me on this point as well.

        3) Linked to 1 but not quite the same point. Politically, I don’t like the idea that the government privileges what amounts to sexual over non-sexual relationships. Why should there be, for example, tax benefits for married couples but not for a brother and sister living together and sharing assets etc? Makes no sense to me and I don’t like it.

        4) Socially speaking, people’s expectation is that if you get married you will host a big party, spend money on jewellery, etc etc. Right now I would be into these things neither financially nor in terms of what my idea of fun is.

        Now, maybe I’d feel differently about some of these points if any of the following applied:

        a) there was a big financial disparity between me and my partner, amounting to one of us being dependent on the other – then you might really NEED court protection in the event of a split

        b) children were involved

        c) we didn’t get along with each other’s families – because then you’d have worries about things like who is the next of kin for medical care issues and so on.

        But I don’t anticipate any of these becoming a problem, so I haven’t considered them too much as hypotheticals that might change my position on getting married.

        Note: Modulo the political beliefs, I have no problem with people getting married if it’s for them – have fun! I just don’t find the positives particularly applicable to my situation.

      • Wency says:

        Also a 4-year cohabitor.

        Some years ago, a friend married a seemingly-lovely girl. They both earned upper-middle class salaries, though his was perhaps 50% greater than hers. They signed a pre-nup and maintained separate finances. They had no children.

        She cheated on him after about three years and decided she wanted out. He made all possible efforts to be the good husband, but he could not persuade her to stay.

        As frequently happens, the pre-nup was thrown out by the judge. In the settlement, she took the house and a substantial cash payout.

        As I see it, under my current cohabitation scenario, there are no perverse incentives for either partner to stay or leave. We stay together because we enjoy one another’s company and love one another. Once a marriage contract is signed, she will have the knowledge that she could leave at any time and extract a great deal of resources from me. The mere threat of leaving would be a powerful weapon she could wield at any time. A pre-nup would only add a touch of doubt to this calculation.

        Of course, I do not expect her to do this, but why introduce such a grossly unjust contract into the relationship? If the purpose of the contract is to keep us together, it seems rather one-sided in that function.

        I similarly trust my business partner considerably, but neither of us proposed that our LLC documents include a clause where one partner can walk away with most of the firm’s assets at any time for any reason (or no reason) while the other partner has no such right.

        • Anonymous says:

          If the purpose of the contract is to keep us together, it seems rather one-sided in that function.

          Depends on each of your prospects outside of the relationship, I would’ve thought.

      • Error says:

        I currently cohabit, and have for about twelve years. Speaking only for myself:

        There was a book by Card, I believe it was Speaker for the Dead, where he noted that marriage didn’t function as an agreement between a person and their lover; but rather as an agreement between a couple on one side and society on the other.

        To what extent that’s true I don’t know, but the concept may shed some light on my longest-held reason for not marrying: I reject the idea that societal recognition is required — or even desirable — to legitimize my relationship. I sleep with who I want, share resources with who I want, or not, and it’s not society’s business.

        Note that I said “society”, not “The State”; I would have the same objection to churches or any other collective entity. No one defines our relationship except us.

        Even if we were inclined to seek recognition, I object to being treated as a union. We’re not one individual; we’re two individuals who watch each others’ backs. We always have the right to walk away. We stay together each day not because of a punishing precommitment, but because, on that day, we still choose to stay together, and for no other reason.

        We refer to each other as partners, not spouses. That has the amusing side effect of people sometimes assuming I’m gay.

        From a practical rather than philosophical perspective, marriage also seems like a plain bad idea. Most marriages fail. I’ve known a few men who went through divorces; invariably the lion’s share of their net worth, and often a nontrivial fraction of their future income, went to their ex (I’m given to understand this is standard for children as well, but that’s irrelevant to me because I refuse to have kids). While I expect any future separation to be relatively amicable, I recognize that the statistics are against me on that. The idea of being forced in future to support someone I wanted out of my life (or who wanted me out of theirs) is intolerable; I make that call for myself.

        Some states treat cohabiting for a lengthy period as common-law marriage. Mine isn’t one of them, and if I move it won’t be to one of them.

        • Anonymous says:

          We stay together each day not because of a punishing precommitment, but because, on that day, we still choose to stay together, and for no other reason.

          If you can each expect to benefit more from the relationship at different times, there is much to be said for revoking your ability to costlessly exit. Not doing so incentivizes the one who benefits first to enjoy those benefits and then not reciprocate later. Not being able to do so disincentivizes the one who benefits later from entering into these kinds of arrangement.

          • Error says:

            I don’t deny that precommitments have their benefits. But I view the right to walk away as pretty much sacrosanct, much like the right to say “no.”

            (in writing that sentence I’m suddenly reminded of Scott’s post on the right to waive your rights, and wondering how it might apply here. That could go some pretty disturbing places.)

            Also, nitpick: even without an explicit marriage, separation isn’t costless. Either of us could get another partner elsewhere if we broke up, but one thing we can’t get elsewhere is twelve years of trust and shared history. That’s not something to discard lightly.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            (in writing that sentence I’m suddenly reminded of Scott’s post on the right to waive your rights, and wondering how it might apply here. That could go some pretty disturbing places.)

            I recommend Sister Y’s The Right to Marry.

          • brad says:

            That’s disingenuous. It doesn’t discuss specific performance, efficient breach, or bankruptcy.

            It also takes espouses a conception of rights that includes so-called positive rights, something that’s not a part of American political tradition (and globally is associated with the left).

    • I’d ask people how they’ve changed.

      This was a snap response about what I’d like addressed, but I’ve come up with an excuse for why it’s interesting. We could learn something about how much change people are capable of. Follow-up questions would include whether the changes were intentional and whether the person thinks the changes were good, bad, mixed, or other, not to mention when and how the change happened.

      • rose says:

        I like your question.

        I’ll give one example of how I’ve changed profoundly: From someone who lived in the city and thought sweating was an error to be corrected immediately by a shower, to someone who lives in the wilderness does multi-day camping trips at 10,000 feet. Camping at altitude leads directly into becoming a different person inside – tougher, more independent, more resilient, more stoical, more peaceful. You can’t say you’re tired and flag down a cab to take you home. You’ve got to get down on your own two feet. that attitude of self-reliance carries over to many things.

        here’s a second one: Serving in the Peace Corps, while a great adventure and something I’m very glad i did, changed me from someone who wanted to live in many different cultures, to someone who wanted deep roots in my own culture. it also changed me from an idealist who thinks you can intervene helpfully in other cultures, to someone more pragmatic who thinks you can barely have good judgment about what works in your own culture. I now think it is nearly impossible to help other people let alone impact other cultures positively. it also changed me from thinking ‘we are all basically human’ to thinking ‘yes, but that means virtually nothing. culture is an incredibly powerful force and determines basic attitudes to time, family, work, money, thought, the value of life, morals you name it. there are very few universals.

    • keranih says:

      My question would be “What is your interaction with the non-human centric world?” I would ask it in a series of questions:

      – A/S/L/SES/ethnicity/religion/etc
      – Is there an animal in your household?
      – Disregarding the subject of the previous question (if yes) What is the last animal you touched (species)?
      – Disregarding the subject of the previous two questions, what is the last animal you saw that you could identify by common name and/or species (Genus species). How long ago was that?
      – What is the last animal you saw that you could NOT identify by common name and/or species? How long ago was that?

      • rose says:

        a pet like a cat or dog is part of the human centric world. it is an artificially deformed and stunted wild animal with its inconvenient, wild traits bred out of it, and bred to be unnaturally focused on humans, who can then project onto it.

        the non-human centric world is the wild, not your household.

        yesterday I saw was gopher snake, four coyotes, a flock of snow geese and a desert hare.

        • keranih says:

          I agree to some extent about domestic animals – although you put it in far harsher words than I would (some domestic species are not physically much different than the wild version, and it is the rare specimen indeed that is as warped as the English Bulldog).

          However, given the number of people who aren’t even aware of ants in their own apartments, much less consciously sharing space with another mammal species, I would retain the question about domestic animals.

          (And our impact extends quite a bit beyond the yard fence, as seen by the movements of coyotes and whitetail deer in suburbs.)

          What is the last time you saw an animal you could not name?

          • rose says:

            I didn’t mean physically deformed, i mean their wildness is deformed. a wolf is a magnificent wild animal, intelligent and social, but it is also extremely aggressive and most of all, it has absolutely no instinct to sit gazing into a human’s eyes with seeming adoration.

            the last time i saw a wild animal i couldn’t name was a jumping mouse of some kind last night driving home, and a thumb-sized black spider marching across the desert this afternoon. also some small sparrows, a large hawk, and a bat.

        • Anonymous says:

          it is an artificially deformed and stunted wild animal with its inconvenient, wild traits bred out of it, and bred to be unnaturally focused on humans, who can then project onto it.

          As opposed to wild animals, which are naturally deformed and stunted with their inconvenient-to-survival traits bred out of them, and bred to be unnaturally focused on their ecological niche.

          Or in other words, “being a pet for humans” is just the niche that cats and dogs are adapted to occupy.

          • rose says:

            the question was about a “non-human centric’ creature. that does not include cats and dogs, which are bred to be human centric by humans and for the benefit of humans.

            its not natural to have animals bred to fawn on us.

          • keranih says:

            the question was about a “non-human centric’ creature. that does not include cats and dogs, which are bred to be human centric by humans and for the benefit of humans.

            Your experience of cats is vastly different from mine.

    • gwern says:

      Perhaps you could survey them about catnip: no one seems to know just what fraction of cats respond to catnip, or what fractions then respond to catnip substitutes like honeysuckle, silvervine, and valerian. Since so many people have cats, a survey of thousands of people should get a good sample size.

      (No, this is not important. But it is annoying.)

      • nydwracu says:

        There are cats that don’t respond to catnip?

        • gwern says:

          There sure are. I live with two of them. (I just tested honeysuckle on them, and one is also immune to that. Oy vey.) If you google, you’ll find claims that 30% of cats are immune, but while this seems plausible since my own first-hand experience with catnip immunity is at 50-50, it doesn’t seem to trace back to any kind of rigorous source. And surveying cat owners is probably an easier way to get a decent sample size than making arrangements with a local pound to test out all their cats.

    • Cauê says:

      Some time ago I tried looking for some survey on how individual women feel about getting catcalls, and couldn’t find anything (I was curious on account of the variety of responses from some women I know).

      On the other hand, it would also be great to ask men who catcall what the hell they intend with it.

      • Urstoff says:

        Catcalling is an extreme case of a random reinforcement schedule: once in the history of the world it worked for a guy, so now all of them try to repeat that success.

      • rose says:

        use your empathic imagination. I imagine its fun. its a male bonding/aggressive/show off thing. it’s a lower class thing. it’s fun to be sexy and naughty in public. it’s fun to be a jerk some times when life is boring and you’re not making it.

      • Psmith says:

        “On the other hand, it would also be great to ask men who catcall what the hell they intend with it.”

        What the hell do Finns intend by standing twenty feet from each other without talking while waiting for the bus? Nothing as such, it’s a local cultural norm. Not doing it would be weird.

      • Zippy says:

        On the other hand, it would also be great to ask men who catcall what the hell they intend with it.

        Seinfeld can explain.

      • Cauê says:

        See, I’ve seen many people who don’t do it explain why those other people do it, but all that’s done so far is make me more curious to hear from the ones who do it.

    • For men or more like for people born with a penis, digit ratio, height, penis size, college major, and some reasonably quantifiable guess about how much body hair one has.

      We know / have an idea how prenatal testosterone, often approximated by digit ratio, has an effect on personality, but does a large member, a hairy back, or being short predict the same personality traits? If it predicts a low digit ratio, that is a good enough guess. (The first two is a fairly common stereotype, height is my idea here, I just hear so often about shorty Napoleons and tall Dutch niceguys that I’d like to test it.) Also my hypothesis that these personality traits correlate with not liking to work so much with people but rather with things and preferably big heavy powerful things so I wonder if e.g. mechanical engineers have a really low digit ratio, lower than software engineers or psychologists.

      Bonus ideas: interest in spectator sports, what kind, time spent at playing a sport a month, which kind.

    • Mark says:

      What do you think needs to be done?

  3. Ken says:

    Your comments lately on milestones and your link back subsequently to the bit on outgroups raised a simple question for me: why do you think a near future civil war _isn’t_ likely? (If it were likely, I would think it would be something you would want to try and raise awareness about? You may consider the Grey Tribe-that-would-be-a-tribe to be an offshoot of Red Tribe, but I’m not sure most of the Red Tribe wouldn’t see you as Blue Tribe.)

    You might want to ask the War Nerd his opinion on it, I’m sure it’s more informed than mine.

    Though you might want to remind him the mind boggling amounts of ammunition suitable for guerrilla warfare now predominantly owned by the fringes of the Red Tribe?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      1. People have been pretty divided for a long time, but there’s only been a civil war once, and that was back when states were way more powerful and secession-being-constitutional was a common legal theory. I agree that polarization has gone up lately, but I’m not sure polarization of average people is the correct measure to look at here.

      2. Strong economic incentives not to have civil war and elites who are good at responding to economic incentives.

      3. American civil religion is really good at what it does.

      4. Scotland didn’t secede even though the UK basically handed them secession on a silver platter if they wanted it.

      5. If it ever did come to that, half the country would secede and the other half would let them. There’s no stomach for a second Civil War.

      • hlynkacg says:

        An additional observation / supporting thought…

        The people best equipped to fight that civil war are often the least inclined to do so. The genuine belief that a Hobbesian war of all against all is not only possible but probable makes one much more wary of the social norms that may result in such a war if violated. IE we wont go forming angry mobs if you don’t.

      • MasteringTheClassics says:

        Would a secession be the issue in a Red-Blue civil war? I’d expect such a war to proceed according to the more standard formula of each side wanting to take over the country. 2 & 3 still have force, but that would take the punch out of 1, 4 & 5.

        • Evan Þ says:

          In that case, let’s not forget how (as Scott said in his old anti-reactionary posts) elections are a safety valve for discontent, Schilling point for determining rulership, and census for counting sides all in one. I don’t see how you’re going to get civil war in America unless something very serious happens to delegitimize elections.

          The only thing I can see that has the potential to do so is voter fraud – whether it’s disenfranchising individuals (for now, mostly against Democrats), having illegal aliens vote (mostly against Republicans), or just plain miscounting votes (only a very few people are claiming anything of that sort.) If one of these claims became much, much more in vogue, there’s a bare chance it might lead to civil war. But I don’t see anything of that sort happening soon.

          • Ken says:

            Er, something HAS happened to rob elections of legitimacy. The fact that Congress’s approval rating is at no more than 20% in the last five years and no more than 30% in the last ten. While over the last fifty years, approval could dip into this range it tended to zig zag a lot and generally avoid such nadirs.

            More importantly in the last four years it’s been _bipartisan_. Normally, disapproval ratings have a lot to do with which party is on top, so it’s sort of a weighted average of how much the governing party is loved by its base and hated by its opponents. Now, four years isn’t forever, but there was always been a spread of at least 8% between the parties since party affiliation approval rating data was tracked by Gallup.

            (Confidence in the Supreme Court and Executive are higher but at relative or absolute lows, too.)

            As it becomes necessary for any change in the status quo to require holding a supermajority in the Senate, a majority in the house, I can’t see the numbers improving in the near future. (It is at least a possibility in fact, bipartisan unhappiness at the situation may deepen.)

            More importantly, the Republican narrative is the government is not legitimate. I don’t have any convenient metrics on how much traction this is getting with the Blue Tribe. But judging by the initial surge of Occupy Wall Street and flirtations with socialism by Sanders, it’s clear a lot of young people in Blue Tribe are not immensely impressed with the status quo. And while less Blue Tribe youth are veterans than Red Tribe, they’re a non trivial percentage….

            Now, this “no legitimacy” thing has come around to bite the Republicans on the ass. As a large number of Red tribe Americans _don’t trust their own political party_. Which is not only bad for the Republican party, it is bad for the long term stability of the country.

            I’m not an American but I know a great deal about the politics and history (arguably I have a better grasp on American politics than my native country).

            It’s just starting to look really nasty from the outside. Eisenhower and his program might have been roundly detested by his opponents, but no one would have dreamed of accusing him of being an aspiring tyrant/traitor as has become the norm for Red Tribe perceptions of Blue tribe presidents.

            And while the level of hatred isn’t quite symmetrical, it doesn’t have to be. If one side gets certain enough the other side is a mortal threat to the polity, society and decency in general and they have a lot of guns, they’re going to DO something about it. It might take a few more cycles of rhetorical escalation…but nothing is happening to actually _cool them down_. They just have moments of greater or lesser agitation.

            Suppose an insurrection starts? Are Red Tribe soldiers _seriously_ going to obey Blue Tribe officers and gun down Red Tribe insurgents? When it would be simpler to just shoot the Blue tribe officers, since after all, the MP’s are mostly Red Tribe too.

            I’m just not tremendously reassured by Scott’s reasoning since it seems to boil down to “nothing like 1861 is credibly in motion” which doesn’t seem to rule out other scenarios.

            I am particularly curious why he’s so certain that the civic religion of Americanism is in such healthy shape. It looks to me like it has largely withered among Blue Tribe and has been _reframed_ by Red Tribe as a purely Tribal identity. He even said as much, I thought, in the outgroup article.

          • James Picone says:

            The only thing I can see that has the potential to do so is voter fraud – whether it’s disenfranchising individuals (for now, mostly against Democrats), having illegal aliens vote (mostly against Republicans), or just plain miscounting votes (only a very few people are claiming anything of that sort.)

            Also gerrymandering, simple-majority voting being awful, and a complete lack of proportionality. Don’t know which group those mostly benefit. They should all be fixed to some extent by 1) Semi-independent electoral commissions with a legal responsibility to draw boundaries to contain approximately the same population and to be approximately representative (see, for example, the way it works in Australia), 2) Adopting some voting system that picks the Condorcet winner; which one it is doesn’t matter much. and 3) is less of a problem with 1) and 2) fixed but if you still want to solve it using different mechanisms for different houses of government can do it while retaining districts for the other house.

          • At least on the left, there’s a lot of mistrust of electronic voting machines. Anyone know whether there’s similar mistrust on the right?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I suspect judicial activism is probably a bigger threat at the moment. If everything you vote for gets struck down by the Supreme Court “discovering” some new right in the Constitution, what’s the point of having elections in the first place?

          • gattsuru says:

            Nancy :

            At least on the left, there’s a lot of mistrust of electronic voting machines. Anyone know whether there’s similar mistrust on the right?

            Yep. The Left’s more invested in it, but there’s loads on the Right that aren’t fans.

            That said, I don’t think the legitimacy of elections, at least in this sense, are as big an issue for Democracy-as-preventing-wars. The “voting as formalized warfare” concept still applies whether you win from overwhelming numbers, or from underhanded tactics.

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          A war in which two factions within a country fight over who gets to take over the government is a civil war. The so-called American Civil War is a very atypical example.

        • Vorkon says:

          Normally I’d agree with you, because that’s how civil wars generally go down, but I think America would be a unique case. (Or rather, a unique case if you don’t count our LAST civil war.)

          In America, rhetoric about states rights and secession, as well as memories of the last civil war, have been so strong for so long now, and there is such a dramatic geographic separation between red tribe and blue tribe controlled territories, that I think there’s a very good chance secession will be an issue. There may be some contested areas, like Washington DC and other blue-dominated cities surrounded by red-dominated countryside, and maybe southern California due to all the military bases, the proximity to other red states, and the fact that a reformed confederacy will probably want some sort of presence on the Pacific, but for the most part the borders are already pretty well-established.

          Other than a few points of contention like that, however, I think that the blues would, for the most part, be willing to accept secession by the reds without bloodshed, as Scott describes above.

          • NN says:

            There may be some contested areas, like Washington DC and other blue-dominated cities surrounded by red-dominated countryside, and maybe southern California due to all the military bases, the proximity to other red states, and the fact that a reformed confederacy will probably want some sort of presence on the Pacific, but for the most part the borders are already pretty well-established.

            You are greatly underestimating the severity of the urban/rural divide. I grew up in a mid-sized city (less than 500,000 people) in a very Red state in the South. The state politics are consistently red, but I rarely encountered any of that in my day-to-day life, and most of my friends were clearly Blue Tribe. My social bubble isn’t quite as insular as, for example, Scott’s dark matter universe. I have Red Tribe family members, some reddish and grayish members of my social circle, and a few strongly Red Tribe Facebook friends who live in nearby small towns that I met at a party once. But since my adolescence I’ve always felt a pretty clear divide between my peer group and, well, conservatives. And there is certainly no way that they would favor something as crazy as seceding from the US.

      • Anno Nimuss says:

        5. If it ever did come to that, half the country would secede and the other half would let them. There’s no stomach for a second Civil War.

        See, you say that. A few months ago I am at lunch with a middle manager and six coworkers. The middle manager is very, very, very Democrat. He spent ten minutes talking about how there is going to be a civil war within the next twenty years, set off by a second amendment debate. He kept talking about how happy he’s going to be when he can watch all those Republicans “get taken care of”.

        I was pretty alarmed at how blatantly and openly a superior was being, on company time. So I tried to make a joke about how “the people with guns and the people without guns go to war, and you think the people without guns will win?”. This was not well received.

        The other six people at the table enthusiastically agreed with him. I felt threatened. I decided against reporting him to HR, because reasons, and just used this as one of the dozen reasons to quit instead.

        I suspect his viewpoint is very common in the Bay Area.

        • Ken says:

          And that’s exactly the point. The guns are divided between a Red Tribe dominated army and a Red Tribe dominated milita movement.

          Where are they imagining their might to make right is going to come from?

          (We’re going to just ignore the morality of their position because the only question I am concerned with is “is a civil war a thing that could happen” because if it happened, I don’t think there will be any winner except in the most nominal and empty terms.

          The fact the war would wreck the country if it was seriously contested or paralyze the country with a political Terror and escalated corruption if it was not…that’s the most pressing matter at hand, imo.)

          • Zykrom says:

            I seriously doubt the militia movement, which ironically is mostly a left wing moral panic from what I can tell, is going to put up a real fight.

            My prediction of how gun prohibition would go, is basically the same as drug prohibition is now. People who really want guns will be able to get them, probably at lower quality and with more personal risk. The police will occasionally raid people, occasionally there will be violence, but I don’t get how people think there would be a real civil war over it; especially if the rollback of gun rights is gradual (which it surely will be).

            (I’m pro second amendment.)

          • Mike says:

            I’m not sure how much it would come to fighting, but I know a lot of guys who would bury a bunch of stuff in cosmoline before they’d show up for a mandatory buyback.

        • The Anonymouse says:

          I suspect his viewpoint is very common in the Bay Area.

          Sounds unpleasant. But please remember that the Bay Area is a far, far outlier insofar as American culture is concerned. (It’s awfully easy to forget these things when you’ve lived somewhere for a while.)

          As a nice tonic, may I recommend somewhere like Houston, Texas; Pocatello, Idaho; Murfreesboro, Tennessee; or, hell, even Irvine, California? I live in a very nice metropolitan area that does not lack for urban culture, and you can get a nice three bedroom apartment in the good part of town for $800/mo.

      • moridinamael says:

        Elaborating on 2.

        It’s not just the elites. In the Civil War, you could credibly make the argument to each individual Southerner that abolishing slavery would destroy their livelihood and threaten the prosperity of their family.

        There’s no present issue that I can see that provides such a stark lynchpin for social schism.

        If you ________, you’re going to anger a large group of people, but you’re not ruining the livelihoods of millions of people and creating a situation where war becomes preferable to stability and civilization.

        where ________ can be replaced by:
        re-outlaw gay marriage
        take away guns
        universally legalize/outlaw abortion
        universally legalize/outlaw marijuana
        insert “huge, important” politically divisive issue

        • Myself says:

          I will have to disagree on outlawing abortion, gay marriage (unless you are just going to back to the ‘you are living together and having sex but not married as far as the government is concerned’) and guns. Either way you are going to have some percentage that is willing to kill for their position, even at the cost of their lives – and those are exactly the people that are so damn hard to stop. It doesn’t seem likely that it will escalate into a war, but an insurgency inside the US could ruin the country even if the government isn’t toppled.

          • moridinamael says:

            I don’t think that impinges on my argument. If you were to make any of those listed legal changes, 99.99% of Americans would either say “good!”, “I don’t care”, “that makes me angry, I’m going to write a letter to my Congressman”, or “this makes my life really hard, but not harder than a state of complete anarchy and bloodshed”. The remaining 0.01% would be the rabid ideologues with nothing to lose, and their actions would not constitute “civil war”.

        • Not all Southerners had slaves, and of those who did, they might only have one or two slaves. It’s one of those power law distribution things.

          • moridinamael says:

            The argument would be along the lines that freeing the slaves would (1) devastate the Southern economy in a general way and (2) introduce a huge number of direct competitors for employment.

          • bluto says:

            A slave is still a direct competitor for employment (they’re doing jobs that people aren’t being paid to do).

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          Most southerners didn’t own slaves.

          The Civil War wasn’t truly about slavery – which is not to say that slavery wasn’t central to it and a recurring theme, but that it would have happened even in the absence of slavery. It was about industrialization and protectionism; it was incited, very directly, by a dramatic increase in import tariffs under Lincoln (who was a staunch protectionist), which negatively affected poor rural farmers (most of the South, who were mostly sharecroppers, not slaveowners) while benefitting the wealthiest. The tariff system systematically undercut the prices of raw goods (which weren’t taxed on import) while raising the prices of finished goods (which were heavily taxed on import). Slavery, as an institution, wasn’t threatened until the war was already underway, at which point the emancipation proclamation was raised as a punishment for the revolting states.

          • Urstoff says:

            Admittedly, I’m no expert (or even moderately read) on the era, so please correct me, but I find the counterfactual “had the North not wanted to end slavery, the civil war would still have occurred” hard to believe. Maybe that’s not what you’re claiming, but it seems like the conflict over slavery was at least a necessary condition for the Civil War.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            I’m puzzled as to what gave you the impression the North was planning to end slavery?

            It’s not like Congress wrote a law planning to end slavery and the South seceded then – Congress passed a law increasing tariffs on industrial goods, and that prompted the South to secede.

            It’s nice to imagine it as being about slavery, however, because that means that the good guys won.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I’m puzzled as to what gave you the impression that the South seceded due to the tariff. They seceded upon Lincoln’s election, before the new Republican-majority Congress was installed. And if you look at their declarations of secession, hardly any mention tariffs, while every one that mentions any cause at all points to Northern hostility to slavery.

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            @Orphan Wilde

            The Republican platform called for an end to slavery in the territories, which they both had the power to do and would have eventually ended it in th south as new slave free states accumulated until they had the numbers to amend the constitution.

            Additionally, even if this interpretation is wrong, it’s the one southern politicians shared. The South Carolina declaration of secession mentions slavery over 20 times.

          • brad says:

            The University of Richmond has digitized the proceedings of the entire Virginia Secession Convention. The word ‘slavery’ appears 512 times, ‘tariff’ only 81 times.


          • Orphan Wilde says:

            The Morrill Tariff had already passed the house, and was mired in the Senate until the 1860 election, at which point it would have passed. The secession began before it formally passed, but it would have anyways, as the Republicans and pro-tariff Democrats (Buchanan, for instance) had gained enough votes in the Senate in that election. It’s worth noting that the abolitionist Seward lost to Lincoln, whose campaign more heavily emphasized protectionism. His three campaign platforms were, explicitly, a new protectionist tariff, the trans-continental railroad, and an expansion of the homesteading act. With regard to slavery, Lincoln’s position was moderate for the time; he opposed expanding it to new states, but opposed abolitionism.

            ETA: Everyone arguing that slavery was the only thing that mattered? Pay attention to the fact that that means that all the good arguments would therefore belong to one side, coincidentally the winning side.

          • 75th says:

            ETA: Everyone arguing that slavery was the only thing that mattered? Pay attention to the fact that that means that all the good arguments would therefore belong to one side, coincidentally the winning side.

            That’s all well and good as a nice, rationalisty meta-argument, but you have conspicuously failed to address the point brought up by multiple people above where almost every Southern state, in documents that survive today, explicitly named opposition to slavery as the reason they were seceding.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            75th –

            That’s because they’re arguing with a position I don’t hold. I’m not going to spend my time arguing with someone who isn’t arguing with me.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Then, Orphan Wilde, what’s the position you do hold? Are you saying that slavery was not a necessary cause for the Civil War? Urstoff disagrees with that above, but what I’m saying is that slavery was a sufficient cause.

          • 75th says:

            That’s because they’re arguing with a position I don’t hold. I’m not going to spend my time arguing with someone who isn’t arguing with me.

            I don’t understand this at all. You have been saying that the war was “incited, very directly, by a dramatic increase in import tariffs under Lincoln”. People have been responding to that claim by saying that the secessionist states explicitly stated in extant documents that the cause for their secession was abolitionism.

            It seems like someone arguing in good faith would understand that the implied question they should answer is “Why did every Southern state claim to be seceding over slavery if they were actually seceding over tariffs?” But since you haven’t understood that, please consider that question asked explicitly herein.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Evan –

            Yes. Urstoff argued it was a necessary cause; I disagreed with him. Whether or not it was sufficient is another matter, which is orthogonal to my point, so I’m not particularly interested in that argument. (Certainly the tariff, which was very similar to a tariff South Carolina had threatened to secede over thirty years earlier – a threat mentioned in their secession declaration, incidentally – is the sensible trigger to point to, rather than the election of an avowed non-prohibitionist, even if slavery was the overall more salient issue.)

            75th –

            Because slavery was their identity.

        • > In the Civil War, you could credibly make the argument to each individual Southerner that abolishing slavery would destroy their livelihood and threaten the prosperity of their family.

          Huh? Not having to compete on wages with subsistence labor is somehow bad for everybody who isn’t independently wealthy? I haven’t studied its history much but my general impression is that for the southern poor it was just about the basic common territorial pride.

          Perhaps, you could make the argument to the poor that abolishing slavery reduces their own relative status. But not wealth.

    • meyerkev248 says:


      1) The lack of an obvious geographic split.

      There was the North, and there was the South and it’s about 400 miles from Lexington to Atlanta and in 1860 that is a huge deal.

      These days it’s mostly “urban kinda vs/kinda allied with suburban” vs “rural”. There’s definitely some regional shifts (ie: Memphis probably sides rural and the Northeast cuts a deal where they don’t enforce gun control in New Hampshire and Vermont), but it’s a loose alliance of city-states that can’t feed themselves but have all the money and most of the tech vs. a loose federation of scattered small settlements.

      Which does matter, but it’s not quite “Everyone south of that line needs X and everyone north of it is in strong agreement that X is a moral wrong”.

      1B) Related to this, I can drive from San Jose to Bonnevile in 10 hours. That’s 800 miles. It’s 2 days to get across the country if you swap out drivers through the night.

      In the event where someone was actually serious about secession, there’s massive columns of every military unit ever heading their way within a matter of hours, and they’ve either crushed the rebellion, or things are really, really bad. Yes, Syria, but I suspect the American military is better than the Syrian one.

      It’s the old zombie problem. One zombie is annoying, 10 Million zombies are the end of modern civilization as we know it. And I just don’t see how you get from 1 zombie (and ok, a few million people chattering on the internet about how theoretically tasty brains might be in some other world) to 10 Million without major fractures in the military first.

      2) Nee polarization, until a senator beats another senator into a coma on the floor of the Senate, I’m not concerned. You’ll end up with some crazies every once in a while, and depending on how annoying they are, possibly some very questionable methods of dealing with them (ie: Go look at what we did in our inner cities to crack down on the crime rates, and then imagine say… 10,000 DC snipers running around), but that’s very different than a civil war.

      3) The root cause of the polarization is limited housing in half the country.
      Blue America is shaped by massively rising rents due to artificially limited housing supply, so poor people filter out and rich people filter in driving out the next round of poor people which is why they care so much about things like income inequality, since everyone’s watching the new round of rich people erode their standards of living away. Red America doesn’t have that experience because their answer to 50,000 new arrivals is 50,000 new homes.

      And now that poor means “Deep into six figures”, that’s going to break, and Blue America will have no choice but to die off, or start building again.

      • Anthony says:

        I’d like to see #3 explored more – it makes intuitive sense to me.

        Geographic separation barely matters. Americans had the oddest civil war in history; everyone else’s civil war is more like Spain’s – there are people on both sides *everywhere*, but once the shooting starts, each side ends up controlling a patchwork of territory.

      • If it is housing shortage based, why is it called white flight?

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          You’re talking about a different phenomenon than was referenced, but that was also caused, sort of, by housing shortages – but only for white people.

          Laws passed under FDR adds bank loan rules, nominally to encourage making loans to minorities, but in function they created areas where banks weren’t allowed to make loans to white people; as only minorities could get loans in these areas, only minorities moved into these areas. After a fairly short term of this, housing prices would start dropping (because you couldn’t sell your house to most potential buyers), and those who could afford to (read: mostly white) people would leave faster, before house prices fell to nothing and they lost all their investment.

          After a couple of iterations of that, banks stopped making loans in these regions (where they’d lose their collateral anyways), which caused them to collapse on their own.

          • BBA says:

            This is quite possibly the least accurate description of a real historical phenomenon I’ve ever read.

            White flight was largely the result of federal attempts to intervene in the housing market, but that’s about all you got right.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            BBA –

            The FHA applied a 20% penalty to the maximum allowed value of any loan for somebody moving into a neighborhood that was of a substantially different racial makeup. Banks were not allowed to make FHA-insured loans (the only loans they would make) for the full value of a house in a black neighborhood, if the potential occupant was white. Which meant you couldn’t actually buy the house with a loan.

            See the FHA Underwriting Manual of 1936.

            The worst case was actually a mixed-race neighborhood, as in some cases (notoriously, although I don’t know the veracity, Eight Mile Road in Detroit) nobody could get loans at all.

            This practice, combined with redlining, completely devastated some minority neighborhoods; other non-redlined neighborhoods were “merely” segregated by law.

          • BBA says:

            Well that’s one I hadn’t heard about before – I was aware of the history of redlining and blockbusting.

            But you give it the connotation of it being an unintended consequence of liberal do-gooderism, when to me it looks like a clear effort to maintain housing segregation. The New Deal was full of these sorts of racist compromises, throwing the minorities under the bus to keep the Dixiecrats from defecting. The original Social Security Act excluded agricultural and domestic workers for the same reason.

            The FHA knew exactly what it was doing.

          • keranih says:

            @ BBA

            The New Deal was full of these sorts of racist compromises, throwing the minorities under the bus to keep the Dixiecrats from defecting. The original Social Security Act excluded agricultural and domestic workers for the same reason.

            Please, I beg you, do not make the mistake of thinking that it was “Dixiecrats” and all those evil racist Southerners who “forced” the more enlightened “progressive good guys” into enacting deliberate policies that were designed to hurt “racial minorities”, and that if only the right-thinking people had been powerful enough to disregard the South, only good and just laws would have been enacted.

            The real world is far more complex and difficult than that.

    • blacktrance says:

      Who thinks Grey Tribe is an offshoot of Red Tribe? There are some Grey Tribers who grew up in Red Tribe areas or even were Red Tribers themselves while growing up, but there’s not much Red left in them. They’re too secular and cosmopolitan and into tech, and the transformation often involves an explicit rejection of Red Tribe culture. But it seems to me that there are even more Grey Tribers who grew up in Blue Tribe and have retained more of its cultural markers – some may not even see themselves as separate from Blue Tribe.

      • hlynkacg says:

        In the US at least, the Grey Tribe is far more Red than it is Blue. At the very least Red and Grey share common assumptions even if the responses differ.

      • Jiro says:

        I’ve often said that Gray amounts to Red without the influence of religion. That’s why rationalists are split into gray and blue rather than red and blue.

        • J says:

          Citation needed? When I think of gray tribe rationalists, I think of “end the drug war”, “get the government out of gay/straight/polyamorous relationships”, “technology will feed the poor if the state will get out of the way”, “seasteading will let you pick whatever government caters to your kink” arguments.

          Liberaltarians, in other words, rather than the redneck libertarian “i’m a sovereign citizen, get your communist hands off my ammo, doomsday prepper” variety.

          • Jiro says:

            When I think of gray tribe rationalists, I think of “end the drug war”, “get the government out of gay/straight/polyamorous relationships”, “technology will feed the poor if the state will get out of the way”, “seasteading will let you pick whatever government caters to your kink” arguments.

            That’s what you get when you remove religion from Red. Opposition to gays is religious-based, and all the other positions are consistent with the Reds (including ending the drug war).

          • Seth says:

            AKA, the common aphorism “Libertarians are Republicans who like to smoke pot”.

            The “sovereign citizen” and the “seasteading” people are both expressing very Red Tribe views of the role of government, and their attitude towards it. That screams out in the part “… if the state will get out of the way” (which is pure Red Tribe rhetoric/signaling).

          • Dirdle says:

            On a political spectrum where 1 is farthest left and 10 is farthest right, the average person placed themselves at 4.6. 19% identified with the US Democratic Party, 7% with the US Republican Party, and 3% with the US Libertarian Party. Of the ideological affiliations available, the top four were social democratic (29%), liberal (23%), libertarian (22%), and conservative (9%). Readers were mostly neutral on feminism, human biological differences, and the minimum wage; they mostly supported gay marriage, environmental action against global warming, more immigration, and basic income guarantees.

            Emphasis mine. While the party-affiliation isn’t a perfect indicator (the majority didn’t identify with any of them), note that there are still far more Democrats than Republicans. But we’d expect on the grey-near-red hypothesis to see the reverse – unless SSC wasn’t representative of Grey Tribe? The same for the ideological identification – calling “libertarian” red tribe seems unfair since that’s damn near what we’re setting out to prove – where are all the conservatives? If grey is close to red, why do SSC readers not primarily split between libertarian (grey) and conservative (red) instead?

            My own pet theory: remember the “Atheism+” kerfuffle? How many mixed grey-red movements have had such a noisy breakup between the elements? Not so many, I think. It seems like grey and blue were allies of convenience when red was imposing its authoritarian ideals during the Bush years, and once blue regained the reins and started throwing some weight around they became the authoritarian force that grey is pretty much defined in opposition to. I would guess we’ll see a similar, mirrored spree of castings-out if the Republicans win the next presidential election, but I only look at US politics from the outside, so it’s a fairly wild guess.

          • Jiro says:

            If grey is close to red, why do SSC readers not primarily split between libertarian (grey) and conservative (red) instead?

            Because red is grey+religion and SSC readers, for obvious reasons, aren’t religious.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But how do the grey-tribers in the other 71% vote? That is the real question. Not whether they are willing to say that the “identify” as Democrat or Republican.

            Perhaps there is a silent majority of grey tribe around here that votes D. But the proportion of vocal sentiment of “the left is all powerful and a threat to civil society” seems to argue the other way. Blue Tribers tend to get crowded out of grey spaces, it seems to me.

            These next statements relate to the current state of society, not necessarily some idealized version of it. Scot is vocally anti-university. Scott is vocally anti-researcher. Scott is vocally anti-social justice/feminist. He is vocally anti-FDA. To me, Scott looks like the typical “the government can’t do anything right and screws everything up that it touches” red-triber, minus the religion and the anti-intellectualism. And even the support of intellectualism is more of the “Well, the real elite intellectuals know the truth. Everyone else is just faking it. Don’t trust the system.”

            Maybe that is unfair to Scott. Maybe this is a contrarian streak where he is hardest on those he agrees with and most charitable to those he disagrees with. But, as the sort-of standard bearer of grey-tribe, his positions sure seem to map onto “fringe-right” pretty well.

            Is there some hidden cache of posts where Scott agrees with bog-standard Blue-Tribe positions that I am missing?

          • blacktrance says:

            Despite their occasional individualist rhetoric, Reds tend to be highly communitarian – even religion aside, it’d be unusual for them to endorse ending the drug war or the moral equality of same-sex and polyamorous relationships (“get the government out of marriage” only showed up among Reds when the alternative was government recognition of same-sex marriage, when it was already popular among Greys, and their cultural attitudes are different), and they’d be more likely to embrace charity than technology as a means of feeding the poor. Indeed, they tend to be wary of technology, being the kind of people who talk about “simpler times”, a traditional rural lifestyle, etc. I’ve never talked to any Red Tribers about seasteading, but I expect they’d disapprove – they’d say something it’s better than those weird people living among us, but ideally they wouldn’t exist.

            The Internet is primarily Grey and Blue, which is why you don’t see many Red Tribers anywhere.

          • dndnrsn says:

            HBC, what are you defining as “fringe right” as?

            In the “SSC on Feminism” post Scott lays out his positions in a way that would put him pretty far away from anybody I personally would think of as “fringe right”.

          • Paul Goodman says:

            @HeelBearCub: for examples of pretty Blue stances by Scott consider https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/04/20/social-justice-for-the-highly-demanding-of-rigor/ and the Anti-Libertarian FAQ.

            Overall I think in trying to place the Greys you guys are putting too much emphasis on explicit politics. Remember that tribalism is much more about culture in general. Consider: how many guns does the average Grey own? Are they more likely to drive a pickup truck or a Prius? Are they more likely to spend money at Walmart or Starbucks? Are they more likely to watch Nascar or Premier League soccer? How many of their friends are Blues, and how many are Reds?

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >Are they more likely to watch Nascar or Premier League soccer?

            Hopefully Nascar, no point in watching a second rate league.

          • Winter Shaker says:


            Is there some hidden cache of posts where Scott agrees with bog-standard Blue-Tribe positions that I am missing?

            Yes. Kinda. At least, see section 3.
            [Edit – dndnrsn beat me to it. Well, now you have a link.]

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @dndnrsn/@Paul Goodman/@Winter Shaker:

            “Fringe” is probably not the best word for me to have used, as it evokes a single-axis left-right political spectrum and implies being as far from the center-point as possible. I more meant, if there were Venn-Bubbles for “right of center politics”, “left-of-center politics”, “red-tribe”, “blue tribe” and “grey tribe” that “grey tribe” would look like the outer shell of “right of center”. Right and left would overlap, red and blue would overlap less, and gray and red would look a lot like the center of “right of center” that gray doesn’t inhabit, but they would overlap a fair amount. Right is the molten center, Gray is the crust, and the overlap in the mantle … or something.

            Haven’t had time to read all the links in section 3, but I will note that Scott seems to have done a fair amount of work over the last year that implicitly tear down his arguments in “Social Justice for the Highly Demanding of Rigor”. Basically he has seems to have called into question whether there exists any study of bias that is reliable.

            Maybe that is an overstatement, but that is the way it read to me.

            Part of this, I think comes from the following from “SSC on Feminism”:
            One of this blog’s recurring themes is highlighting bad statistics and poorly done studies.

            On the one hand, this is seems to be a needed thing. The fact that replication is not seen as a necessary thing to be supported and rewarded in the science’s seems like a problem that is asking for a solution. Or maybe not. Chesterton’s fence and all that.

            On the other hand, he doesn’t seem to take down many poorly done studies or bad statistics written in support of right-leaning ideas. Again, this could be selection bias on my part. I admit it.

            I truly value the community Scott has built here. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a breath of fresh air to have substantive discussion on issues.

          • dndnrsn says:


            I can’t recall if Scott has said this himself, or not, but he probably sees more bad left-wing statistics than bad right-wing statistics because of the social bubble he’s in (university educated, living in a blue state, etc), etc. So, a selection bias on his part.

            To put it another way, if most of what a person sees when they fire up Facebook is left-wing, then most of what they see at Facebook that pisses them off is going left-wing.

            I think his actual opinions (as in the “On Feminism” post, which I mentioned and Winter Shaker linked to, and which actually is a sorta-hidden post) would make him pretty unwelcome in most right-of-centre circles, at least in an American context.

            I think what is going on is that “grey tribe” people are usually disaffected blue tribers, who grew up in a blue tribe setting, went to school in a blue tribe setting, or both. Their opinions change, but their social circles don’t.

            Additionally, I’d note that his objections in regards to feminism are much stronger than his objections to any other “social justice” thing I can think of, for reasons that are at least in part emotive.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Maybe that is right, but if so, that feels like a really big blinder on his part, in a Chesterton’s fence kind of way.

            A frequent comment pattern (not Scott’s) is to talk about how kind, welcoming, downtrodden, etc. red-tribe, all while describing blue-tribe as sort-of a social justice borg cube. Which, if you are at a university I get. Most universities are fairly blue tribe in culture, although, even at universities I don’t think that the ideas are made to pay rent much of the time.

            But if you pick your head up and look at the wide world, it’s not that way at all.

            As to, “not welcome in right of center circles”, it depends on which right of center circles we are talking about. The heavily religious ones? Well, but that isn’t saying anything anyone else hasn’t said.

            This is the only one that strikes me as unadulterated left-leaning of the others: “Pro-universal-free-contraception”

            Take “trans-rights”. What does he mean by that? That you have the right to be trans, and I have the right to say trans people are disgusting and refuse to hire you on that basis? And if I say it in public no one should say boo about it? And people should ignore that I said it when making economic decisions?

            In other words, what does the “right” to “be” trans mean? Is it just the standard libertarian “red in tooth and claw, fend for yourself” type of rights? Or are those rights protected from the majority?

            I recognize that cuts both ways, mind you. I’m not sure if Scott actually really does, at a visceral level.

          • lvlln says:

            I agree with dndnrsn’s analysis. I feel like I can empathize with Scott quite a bit in this; I’m a far left life-long blue tribe member whose politically oriented speech mostly consists of debunking and calling out inaccuracies spread by the blue tribe in support of blue tribe rhetoric/policies. I do this because, being deep within the blue tribe, the vast majority of misleading, deceptive, or outright fraudulent claims and arguments I see are pro blue tribe spread by blue tribers. As such, I perceive as a far more pressing need to correct the blue tribe’s distortions compared to correcting the red tribe’s distortions.

            I admit there’s a bit of elitism to my motivations as well: I perceive that being honest isn’t as core to the red tribe as it is to the blue tribe, so I don’t think being caught spreading misleading or deceptive arguments is as harmful to the red tribe as it would be to the blue tribe. Thus I’m motivated not to waste energy calling out deceptions by the red tribe since it wouldn’t hurt them anyway. With the blue tribe, I don’t have enough confidence in the ability of the blue tribe never to get caught deceiving, and thus I’m motivated to call out deceptions as often as I see it, so that the blue tribe has a greater incentive to spread only honest arguments, which strengthens my side.

            I also admit that I can recognize that my efforts seem to have been unable to do anything to fight the tsunami of poor/dishonest/misleading arguments coming from my side. I may be more motivated by wanting to dissociate what I consider a part of my identity from widespread dishonesty and fraud than any sort of higher desire for justice or any sort of political strategy.

          • Jiro says:

            Reds tend to be highly communitarian – even religion aside, it’d be unusual for them to endorse ending the drug war or the moral equality of same-sex and polyamorous relationships

            How in the world can you say that “religion aside” it would be unusual for Reds to endorse gay and polyamorous relationships? The entire reason the Reds oppose them is that Red and religion are intertwined. “Religion aside” they wouldn’t *be* Reds, they’d be Greys, who do of course endorse such things.

            And ending the drug war is not so unusual that you can’t google up “marijuana Republican” and find things.

          • rose says:

            @heelbear cub “Is there some hidden cache of posts where Scott agrees with bog-standard Blue-Tribe positions that I am missing?”

            the one that is like nails on a blackboard to me is Scott’s blue tribe assumption that liberals are more compassionate and caring than conservatives.

            a second Blue Tribe assumption here is that global warming isn’t one the biggest scientific frauds/corruption of science by politics in the history of modern science.

            I’m not sure if this is Scott or others here – assumptions about green energy being real?

          • Urstoff says:

            Apparently Scott is an ideology Rorschach test: everyone sees the ideology they dislike in his posts.

          • Dirdle says:

            I think this was the first description of these concepts on SSC:

            The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

            The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

            (There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)

            I don’t see how removing religion alone would convert one from red to grey. It’s a major factor, but not a grand unifying one. There are too many other unrelated things.

            And yes, there are a majority of apolitical grey-tribers, but if grey is closer to red than to blue, the political grey tribers should show up in the statistics as a tendency towards red and the apolitical as either nothing or noise. But what we have is a tendency towards blue. That is, suppose 80% of grey is apolitical (and everyone not grey is political), and the remaining fraction is divided P and 1-P between red and blue favour. Then take SSC to be, say, 75% grey, and the remainder divided Q and 1-Q red and blue. That gives us 15% of the readership who are political grey. We expect to see 0.25*Q + 0.15*P red support in the survey, and 0.25*(1-Q) + 0.15*(1-P) blue support. To see the results that we do (around ~10% red and ~20% blue, maybe) with P being higher than, say, two-thirds*, we need Q to be horrifically small – 0, in fact. So we’d have to have basically every non-grey survey-taker to be blue, despite the slight hostility to blue ideology that the comments sometimes dip towards. Numbers totally made up on the spot and tweaked to keep maths easy-ish, let me know if there are any mistakes or questionable guesses.

            * if it’s less than that, I’d be inclined to say grey is entirely neutral rather than an offshoot of one or the other tribe.

          • nydwracu says:

            Despite their occasional individualist rhetoric, Reds tend to be highly communitarian – even religion aside, it’d be unusual for them to endorse ending the drug war

            Pat Robertson used to support marijuana legalization, but recently backpedaled to only supporting decriminalization. And if you think Reds don’t smoke weed, well…

            I’ve never talked to any Red Tribers about seasteading, but I expect they’d disapprove – they’d say something it’s better than those weird people living among us, but ideally they wouldn’t exist.

            Maybe some of them would. I’d expect the Red Tribers in my family to go “huh, how about that” and just not think about it. They’re already like that about California: “people are weird over there, but it’s over there, so I’m not going to think about it that much”. (I once told my father I was thinking about moving to SF; his response was “what, are you gay?”.)

            The entire reason the Reds oppose them is that Red and religion are intertwined. “Religion aside” they wouldn’t *be* Reds, they’d be Greys, who do of course endorse such things.

            …What? No. ‘Grey’ is closer to ‘nerd’ than ‘libertarian’. Reds who aren’t particularly religious exist. I’ve met some.

          • rose says:

            • Urstoff says:
            November 9, 2015 at 5:45 pm
            Apparently Scott is an ideology Rorschach test: everyone sees the ideology they dislike in his posts.

            Scott often espouses contrarian views, so of course different people would find different aspects they agree or disagree with. That doesn’t make disagreement projection. On the other hand, there do seem to be some SSC readers who lionize every word.

            I don’t think I am misunderstanding or misreading Scott, but i am not a regular, so perhaps i am missing crucial posts– if so, please enlighten me. I’d rather be wrong.

            these are the comments that i find hard to take: ex. When Scott writes the “mirror neuron” is “liberalism’s strongest weapon”, the way I read it is that he is claiming that liberals are more capable of empathy and more compassionate than conservatives.

            This is Blue Tribe bunk, 100%. It is the central myth of Blue Tribe identity: that they are morally superior. It rationalizes all their destructive, individual-destroying, power grabbing ways. And a lot of socially liberal self-styled Grey Tribe people on ssc seem to find the claim that liberals “care” reasonable. I don’t . Kindness and empathy do not fall along political lines.

            When Scott’s own personal comfort is threatened, as by feminist SJW, he is sensitive to liberal defamation and bullying. When it doesn’t involve him personally, not so much. (again, I’d rather be wrong.) This blinds him to the across the board abuse of power by the Blue Tribe in all sorts of spheres – free speech is one in the headlines today, also the hostile treatment of Israel, the inadvertent destruction of the black community is a perennial.

          • @Jiro

            > Opposition to gays is religious-based

            No, it is largely based on disliking effeminate men, although it is possible that when saying such openly is low-status, people justify it with religion. But when a kid says your red jeans are totally gay he does not mean they offend Jesus, he means they offend masculine sensibilities so it all boils down to thinking you don’t signal being useful fighting ally in some gang war. This is also why it is a lower-class thing if the upper class thinks even muscles are useless, clearly they think masculinity is useless.

            Religion can be twisted this way or that way, but an opposition to male effeminacy is something far deeper and more universal, at least in lower classes, it is something we on the right would call biology and they on the left would call patriarchy.

          • Paul Goodman says:

            @Rose: at least on the mirror neuron comment I think you are misunderstanding him. He meant “liberalism” in the broad sense of liberal democracy as opposed to more sectarian, authoritarian societies, not in the sense of the American liberal vs conservative left/right divide.

        • JB says:

          Perhaps the next SSC survey (if there is one) could ask people to place themselves in a tribe, and also ask who they voted for in each US election since 2004 (if US citizen and old enough… could also do this for any other country where there is sufficient readership from here to make such comparisons). This would distinguish between gray-sides-with-red, gray-sides-with-blue, and gray-against-authoritarianism.

          • rose says:

            why 2004?

          • JB says:

            A vote for Kerry in 2004 could be interpreted as siding with blue or against authoritarian incumbents in general, while a vote for Bush hints at siding with red.

            A vote for Romney in 2012 could be interpreted siding with red or against authoritarian incumbents in general, while a vote for Obama hints at siding with blue.

            Those two questions combined could (weakly, with qualifiers) sort people into those three groups.

        • dndnrsn says:


          Beyond free contraception, he’s pro-choice (arguably, the US right has gotten more anti-abortion in the last decade or two). That’s the one that jumps out at me.

          He’s solidly blue tribe, in terms of politics one can hardly accuse him of being a right-winger (esp. in the American context – is this a guy you see voting Republican?) but he feels personally threatened by the more zealous social-justice types.

          You are probably right that it is a university bubble. I know people from university who fit into the type he feels threatened by. I think that what differentiates them is not necessarily their ideas but their attitudes.

          An illustration: I know two people, who share many “descriptors” and who probably hold very similar political and social opinions, both are very much “social justice people”, but person A is generally pretty easy to get along with, and person B is not.

          Person B very much falls into the “weaponized victimhood” mold: talks a lot about how they have been hurt/harmed by things, really seems to overlook when they have hurt/harmed others (including actual material harm), takes slights very seriously, complains of being silenced by the speech of others (and thus others should not be allowed to speak – very much a person of the “I support free speech, BUT” type). Conversation is like walking on eggshells, even when agreeing with them. Person A has referred to person B, in a derogatory way, as a “social justice warrior” – there’s some bad blood there over person B interpreting something person A said in the worst way possible.

          Despite the fact that if you sat them down and made them take, say, one of Jonathan Haidt’s moral values tests, they would come out very similar, I think Scott would get along much better with person A than person B.

          There’s holding a certain set of opinions, values, beliefs, etc, and then there’s jumping down the throat of anyone who steps wrong. For personal history reasons, Scott seems to be made really, really upset by people who do the latter, or people who appear like they will do the latter. He probably thinks they make up a larger % of the blue tribe than they do.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That all seems fair. I agree with you about your thoughts about person A and person B.

            The reasons I didn’t include the pro-choice part is that it falls into the “without religion” clause.

            Does Scott support (broadly) the social welfare state? Not socialism, but the idea that society, and government as expressing the values of society, has a responsibility to look out for an support the broad welfare of its citizens? The “free” part of the contraception is the only thing in that list that hints at the idea that he does.

            Where much of what I pointed out suggests that he may not. He spends much time eloquently objecting to many elements of it. He does not spend much time in trying to find examples of it working or analyzing how flaws could be overcome, etc.

            Perhaps this is his contrarian nature. But then you get into the question of how charitable he is towards which arguments.

          • Cauê says:

            What about his defense of universal basic income?

          • dndnrsn says:


            I can see what you’re saying about charity, but from reading his stuff, it only really seems to be feminism where the level of charity drops.

            He talks about “social justice” having problems, but that seems to be emanating from the fact that the social justice movement as it currently exists is based heavily on certain branches of feminist thinking.

            I don’t think he shows the same blind spot when it comes to discussing, let’s say, trans issues, or Black Lives Matter. When he’s discussing, say, lower-income patients and their plight, he comes off as extremely sympathetic. Etc.

            It seems much more plausible to me that what is going on here is a negative emotional reaction to certain varieties of feminism, and certain tactical/expressive methods within those varieties, on his part, than a right-wing ideological position on his part.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Isn’t GMI/UBI gaining a great deal of steam in libertarian circles?

            Has Scott said anything about Black Lives Matter? I’m not aware of it. Trans rights and others tend to fit under a libertarian friendly rubric.

            The question for me is, how much does Scott sympathize with those who want to immensely reduce the institution of government? Does he think government is, on-balance, positive or negative?

            He doesn’t spend much time on positive things government does, does he?

          • dndnrsn says:


            Off the top of my head, the only “big government” thing I can think of that he spends a lot of time criticizing is the FDA, specifically, its drug-approval methods. But that’s off the top of my head.

            Again, selection bias, since that’s something he deals as a medical professional.

          • Cauê says:

            Isn’t GMI/UBI gaining a great deal of steam in libertarian circles?

            Sure, it’s been there for a long time.

            But it seems to match your phrasing, and should count as an example of trying to find a way to overcome flaws and make it work.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That is a fair point.

          • Bruce Beegle says:

            Isn’t GMI/UBI gaining a great deal of steam in libertarian circles?

            I suppose that depends on how widely you define libertarian. I’d expect almost all libertarians to oppose GMI/UBI, since the wealth given to people is not obtained voluntarily.

            Some “left libertarians” do support GMI/UBI, and they seem to be people who take a position that’s semi-libertarian and semi-left. Other “left libertarians” seem to support libertarian principles but want to be concerned about issues that concern the left (such as feminism), and I’d expect those to oppose GMI/UBI. (I haven’t read a great deal of “left libertarian” work, since I don’t consider libertarianism to be either left or right.)

            There could be many libertarians who would say “if you’re going to take wealth from some people and give it to the poor, then GMI/UBI may be the best way to give wealth to the poor”, but don’t forget the “if”.

      • Ken says:

        Well, Scott himself seemed to ? or at least think it was the dominant opinion in Grey Tribe?

        • Mike says:

          My personal experience as a Grey Tribe member is that I place myself closer to whoever doesn’t have the power to force their BS on me.

          When I was growing up in a conservative, rural, Bible-thumping town I was incredibly annoyed by Red Tribers and thought that Fundamentalism and ignorance were the worst things in the world.

          When I went to college and started work in the tech industry, my opinion quickly switched to feeling equally negatively about the modern Blue Tribe and their hatred for individualism and free speech 🙂

          This corresponded roughly to the Bush and Obama presidencies, but I really think it was more whose bad ideas I had to listen to *from my peers* versus whose bad ideas were far away and easily ignored. I fully expect to do a bit of a Blue shift whenever my daughter starts her Red Tribe kindergarten.

          • Anonymous says:

            Agreed – with the additional point that it’s irritating to be in the position of opposing the Blue Tribe, simply because opposing the Red Tribe is so much kinder on the soul. When you’re anti Red Tribe you get to be the brave underdog fighting for what’s obviously right: ideas that sound good and ideas that are good are aligned, and so the other side is just a totally evil monster with no redeeming features. When you’re anti Blue Tribe you get to be the suspicious outcast at best, the evil monster at worst, and have to constantly apologize and wring your hands, saying yes, it would be lovely if the ideas that sound good actually were good, but I’m really sorry but they just aren’t, and we’ve got to do this thing that yes sounds awful, but it really is for the best, I promise… .

            I really truly miss getting to be the unambiguous good guy when arguing Grey Tribe views.

        • Paul Goodman says:

          In I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup, Scott describes the Grey Tribe as essentially a subfaction of the Blues:

          “(There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)”

      • brad says:

        There’s seems to be a lot of uncertainty and debate around the concept of a grey tribe, including whether or not it even exists really.

        The situation reminds me a little bit of that around the term “middle class” where everyone brings his own experiences, prejudices, insecurities, and aspirations into what is ostensibly a bland terminology discussion.

      • Anonymous says:

        My understanding of Grey is that it’s more of an offshoot of Blue, in the direction of Red. This is based on experience talking to lots of Grey Tribe types (and being one myself), as well as that it seems to me to be just more likely to work this way. Going from Red to Grey requires abandoning your Red culture in exchange for Blue culture, but retaining most of your Red political views. Going from Blue to Red requires hearing good arguments for Red Tribe political views that you find more convincing than the Blue Tribe arguments you were brought up believing.

        In other words, I think people are more likely to change their beliefs regarding factual claims about how the world works, than they are to change their cultural preferences.

        • rose says:

          @ anonymous:
          “Going from Red to Grey requires abandoning your Red culture in exchange for Blue culture, but retaining most of your Red political views. Going from Blue to Red requires hearing good arguments for Red Tribe political views that you find more convincing than the Blue Tribe arguments you were brought up believing. In other words, I think people are more likely to change their beliefs regarding factual claims about how the world works, than they are to change their cultural preferences.”

          My experience is that leaving one’s natal tribe and adopting another is transformative over time, because it leads you to also change what you read and who you socialize with. I moved from Blue to Red in the week after 9/11 (as did my parents who lived through Stalin and Hitler; my spouse and my closest friend). At first my only disagreement was on geopolitics and national security – as you say, changing beliefs regarding factual claims about how the world works. But it didn’t stay that limited for long.

          As I switched from reading the NY Times to the Wall St Journal, because it had columnists on those topics I was interested in and agreed with, I exposed myself to new and more convincing information on a broad range of subjects. I changed my mind on many of the topics that would come under ‘cultural preferences.’ its not so much i changed my personal behavior, but i changed my personal reaction to a lot of cultural markers.

          After changing my ideas on so many things, I began to change my social world as well. I encountered the intolerance and ignorance of my former fellow liberals, and found them harder to harder to feel a connection with. All my new friends are Red Tribe.

          Here we are in 2015 and virtually all the people I enjoy most are Red Tribe. I’ve broadened my world immeasurably. They range from no high school to Phds, from rich to poor, from city to country, from Evangelical to atheist. I don’t agree with them on everything, but we agree on these fundamentals: a love of freedom (from intrusive big government), a love of country, commitment and pride in being responsible adults, belief in rule of law and gratitude for the constitution and our founding fathers, and respect for Judeo-Christian values, and a love of Israel, not wanting to live in a bossy-pants culture but to follow our own drummer.

      • Taradino C. says:

        Who thinks Grey Tribe is an offshoot of Red Tribe?

        Here’s one such person: http://graydon2.dreamwidth.org/193575.html

        He even links to Scott as an example of a “right-winger” who’s “very confused” about his position on the political spectrum. Amazing.

    • Seth says:

      An 1860’s-style civil war between two sections of the country doesn’t seem to be structurally likely. There’s a tiny bit of that with the urban coasts vs the rural center. But the rural center doesn’t have a huge reason to secede. They may be unhappy with some of the cultural changes, but nowhere near enough to have an armed struggle over it.

      A 1930’s-style Great Depression conflict between the “1%” and the “99%” (i.e. basically everyone else), now, that’s another story. No troops yet, but in another financial crisis, it’s easy to see them coming out fast and hard. And measures of inequality are at very, very, dangerous levels.

    • T. Greer says:

      I am always a bit curious why the War Nerd has such popularity among rationalist crowds, though he doesn’t get much respect in the community of folks who devote their time on the internet writing and reading about military conflict. Gary Bretcher is best when he is talking about the two cultures he knows best: Saudis and journalists. When he travels far from these topics…. his analysis can be a bit questionable.

      re: the plausibility of a civil war, especially a right wing insurgency. It won’t happen. To state the problem with any civil war scenario simply: the rebels won’t win. And if they know they won’t win, they won’t bother starting a war in the first place. Right wingers and their guns simply cannot withstand what the U.S. military can throw at them. This seems strange to say years after the United States withdrew in defeat from wars in two countries far poorer than our own. But the situation really isn’t analogous. Insurgencies against foreign powers don’t work like insurgencies against domestic foes, and there are reams of social science research on the differences. To state it in a sentence: the foreign powers cannot credibly signal commitment. The local insurgents know that they will be there forever, but eventually the foreigners will pack up and go home. But when the counter-insurgents share their home–that is when things get nasty.

      You can see how this played out in Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. exhaustion in both regions had everything to do with the U.S. public’s intolerance of imperialist projects and its absolute abhorrence of casualties. The United States armed forces lost far more treasure than blood in our expeditions in the Near East, and on the national scale the blood we lost was a pin prick. There is no retreat in a new U.S. civil war, especially one that follows an insurgency, not physical secession model. The full power of the U.S. military would eventually be brought to bare, and in that fight the insurgents don’t win.

      The only hope insurgents could have is if substantial parts of the U.S. military joined their cause. This is what happened in the civil war. But that is a singular event, and the early history of the Republic is full of minor rebellions that expected the Army to join in. They were disappointed when they met with cannon-fire instead. Given that those early revolts took place at a time in which the qualitative distinction in weaponry available to both government and resistance forces was not that big (or a distinction did not exist at all), it should have been the optimal case for success. Moreover, the US military was not as centralized and professionalized as as it is today. A “military” as we understand it did not exist. And what was the result? Did armed resistance work? Nope.

      Let’s also take a look at the integration of the South, a situation that a *civil war* had been fought over 100 years prior. What happened? The military obeyed central authority. We federalized the National Guard. The entire apparatus of Southern society stood down when its bluff was called. And in the event that the political reliability of local units would be in question, we could have always did what the PRC did to pull off its massacre in Beijing. Rotate all of the local units out of their home bases and pull in distant units more willing to utilize violence.

      The hypothetical depends on the assumption that the military would refuse to fire on fellow Americans and could be split. That was a plausible assumption in 1861. It is most decidedly *not* a plausible assumption in 2015. This has been part of what the military has been training for since the Cold War — large scale suppression of civil unrest. We have seen the results in the various riots of the 1960s.

      The military will stick with the government. As long as the military does, rebellions won’t start, and if they do they will be crushed. The only plausible scenario for civil conflict is severe elite fragmentation at the top. Elite over-production might make that a reality somewhere down the line, but not in 2015 or even 2025. When you stop to consider the deeper parallels between the antebellum era and our own it becomes pretty clear pretty quick that hyper-partisanship keeps civil tensions low. Without it real social cleavages would pose a more serious threat of outright violence.

      • Ken says:

        I think you might be losing sight of the fact for the poor and working poor, this is a much bigger deal. Tensions might be reduced higher up the income ladder, but at the bottom, it’s looking to me like the polarization is getting pretty bitter.

        It’s more bitter because really disastrous events owing to poverty are becoming more common. When people have only their in group to save them from calamity, getting your status up with that group is really important.

        And it’s a distressing fact that the Red Tribe is better at supporting their in group (albeit with a high tax in personal freedom and much stress) than the Blue Tribe.

        And most of the in group glue these days is being sufficiently loud about how much you hate your out group. You seem to regard this as harmless name calling. But my impression is it is fundamentally shifting people’s mental reference points for what’s normal and reasonable as an opinion about objective reality.

        I tend to dismiss the parallel to the pre Civil War because then, there was a sense of Manifest Destiny and the certainty that with hard work, your descendants would be better off than oneself. I don’t believe anyone in the lower half of society hardly believes that anymore. There’s certainly been enough scholarly work about the decline in social mobility, too.

        Finally, you’re saying the military will back the elites because historically they were so reliable….

        re: integration, I would argue that much as they hated blacks, when they had their noses rubbed in it, they hated blacks a lot less than they hated Blue Tribe whites. After all, as Scott said, who would they regard as true peers?

        And their passivity to Blue Tribe whites reflected a much less politically polarized army, much less integrated communications between dissidents, and much greater wealth and stability. Their lives were comfortable and stable. They had a lot more to lose than they would if the situation had somehow been kicked down the road to be settled today.

        Secondly, the army back in the early days was basically for the dregs of society who were quite culturally balkanized by ethnicity and state of origin. Now, Red and Blue tribe are more homogenous tending in belief and values than ever before. And they’re in the army often because it’s the employer of last resort. ie, you have people who are _pissed_ at having to risk their lives to avoid being homeless.

        This doesn’t seem like a parallel situation to me. Especially since popular culture the last 25 years has relentlessly amplified tropes of “the government is evil”. It is _hip_ to confess how cynical and jaded you are about government now. We’ve had two election cycles where the Red Tribe had a huge struggle just to agree on a candidate because outsider credentials are indispensable to a plurality of the base!

        • moridinamael says:

          I have a hard time visualizing what this type of war would look like. Primarily due to the fact that “poor people” are a demographic, not a “group”. That is why poor people are so unsuccessful at pursuing policy changes that would be to their advantage as a group.

          Other historical class-motivated wars have tended to divide the populace along some very clear line. Nobility vs. peasantry. Farmers vs. educated city-folk. Where would the dividing line be drawn in modern American society? 1% vs. 99%? 1%ers don’t walk around with badges. There’s very little that outwardly demarcates a 1%er from a 5%er. Economic inequality cuts across most demographic categories so it’ll be hard to find a wedge/Schelling point on which to base a real movement toward violence.

      • Deiseach says:

        Let’s also take a look at the integration of the South, a situation that a *civil war* had been fought over 100 years prior

        Exactly. The Civil Rights movement in the North, which was inspired by your Civil Rights movement, eventually ended up in not alone clashes with the police, it kicked off the Troubles where we had forty years of paramilitaries on both sides, bombings, assassinations, dirty tricks, the whole shebang.

        Your Civil Rights, for all the shootings, didn’t end up that way. You escaped a civil war in the 60s. Things like Occupy are not even going to emulate their spiritual forefathers like the Weathermen or the Symbionese Liberation Army, and see how successful those attempts at armed insurrection were in their day (i.e. not very).

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          I wonder how much of this is due to increased criminal and social punishments?

          Anecdotally a number of left-wing terrorists back then got out of prison and got jobs as professors and activists since then. I would be surprised if someone with a past like that could ever into a grad program today.

          • Deiseach says:

            I would be surprised if someone with a past like that could ever into a grad program today.

            Take a look at where some of the Occupy lot are in five-ten years (not the leadership as such, the wide-eyed followers who truly believed that living in tents on a parking lot was going to change the world). Trendy Lefty isn’t a new phenomenon and it’s never gone away.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Occupy wasn’t The Weather Underground, not even remotely close.

      • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

        A civil war like The Civil War with rebel regiments fighting in open battle is indeed impossible, but localized insurgents engaging in asymmetrical war can achieve important goals as proven by Arafat, Mandela, ETTA, IRA etc

      • NN says:

        I agree with you that a Civil War in the near future is highly unlikely, but I have to disagree with some of your reasons behind this.

        The hypothetical depends on the assumption that the military would refuse to fire on fellow Americans and could be split. That was a plausible assumption in 1861. It is most decidedly *not* a plausible assumption in 2015. This has been part of what the military has been training for since the Cold War — large scale suppression of civil unrest. We have seen the results in the various riots of the 1960s.

        First off, I think you’re overestimating the loyalty of the armed forces. The Assad regime spent decades packing its army with Alawites, Christians, and other religious minorities who all potentially had a lot to lose if the Sunni majority gained power, and yet when push came to shove they still saw a massive amount of defections. No, America isn’t exactly like Syria, but I invite you to take a look at the initial reaction to Ferguson, when a huge amount of people on both sides of the political spectrum were shocked to see local police wearing camo and driving around the streets of an American suburb in “tanks.” Also, Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, and Nidal Hasan seem like significant counterexamples.

        Second, even if everyone in the army at the start of the war is loyal, how do you stop insurgents from infiltrating the security forces and then either defecting with their new weapons or using their position to covertly aid their own side, like Loyalist militias did in the Troubles?

        Third, even if there aren’t any defections, it might not matter as much as you think. Bringing up Northern Ireland again, the IRA managed to cause an awful lot of trouble even though there was never a significant amount of defections from the British security forces to their side.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Just having competing tribal groups in society isn’t enough to cause a civil war, or we’d never stop having them. It takes a breakdown of civilization. If people aren’t getting together in bands and engaging in the political murder of the opposite tribe, like in Bleeding Kansas before the War of Confederate Secession, you probably don’t have much to worry about. We were closer to civil war in the mid-20th century than we are now.

      • FJ says:

        Bleeding Kansas and John Brown’s Raid are the best harbingers of civil war. No matter what your view of the American situation, it’s unlikely that millions of people wake up one morning and say to their spouses, “Honey, I think I’m going to topple the corrupt government today.” There’s a period in which the Overton window gradually shifts from “we settle our public-policy disputes through elections and litigation” to “we deal in lead, friend.” When we start seeing substantial armed insurrections, mass civil war becomes likely. If we don’t see entire communities descend into chaos, civil war remains unlikely.

        • If Confederate Reckoning is correct, secession wasn’t a bottom-up phenomenon at all– if there’d been an honest vote taken by all the white men of the south, they would have let matters drift. It took a considerable amount of politicking and some cheating to make secession happen.

          • Mark, you’re right, but until I read the book, I had no idea what a huge coordination problem secession was. For that matter, I didn’t know secession wasn’t all that popular.

            You should read the book. There’s some stuff about white Southern women I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

    • nydwracu says:

      You may consider the Grey Tribe-that-would-be-a-tribe to be an offshoot of Red Tribe

      Yeah, no. The Grey Tribe is an offshoot of the Blue Tribe that didn’t get the message back in ’68 when the rest of the Blues decided Maoism was cool. Read Steven Levy.

    • Deiseach says:

      In the United States? If you don’t consider there is a minor, ongoing, de facto civil war re: race/class anyone who wishes can fight this out in the comments), then I don’t think an actual shooting war is likely.

      Who is going to be fighting whom? The government (plus black helicopters) versus the little people? I mean, I’ve seen the Democrats/Left muttering ominously about how the Big Bad Republican party were usurping power in the days of Regan/the Bushes and they’d mount a coup and refuse to step down after the term was over; now it’s people in the Republicans/Right making the same predictions about Obama usurping power and not stepping down when his term runs out.

      It’s not like the Irish Civil War where, fresh from the War of Independence, people on both sides of the divide who were forming the new political parties had guns, bombs, and contacts with guerrillas where they weren’t guerrillas themselves, plus experience of having been in armed conflict. It’s easy to go into a shooting war when you’ve just come out of one or have two armies shaping up to one another, but I don’t see who the putative combatants would be in a current or near-future American civil war.

    • tcd says:

      This topic came up at work last week and I was sort of surprised to see everyone in the room nodding in agreement that a civil war would be inevitable in this country (race, class, xenophobia, surely one of them?). A few reasons off the top of my head why all of this civil war hype is mostly nonsense (I say mostly because people have every right to be vocally upset about race, class, xenophobia, etc.)

      1. The notion of “Civil War (TM)” has been fetishized by our most ideologically inclined. Can you blame them? The pursuit of glory in the name of your most dearly held beliefs, it does not get much more human than that. Only, while some spend their precious time sharpening and resharpening (and resharpening) their swords waiting for order to charge, the majority of people simply express their concerns and find a compromise somewhere.

      2. Scott’s points 2 and 3.

      3. To expand on Scott’s (and others) points: Preparation for civil war is a massive coordination problem, made even more complicated in the information age.

      4. [Kind of a restatement of Scott’s point 2 in retrospect, left in.] Moreover, the vast majority of people capable of planning, preparing, and running a civil war are precisely those people who have no reason to even entertain the idea. This point is intended to come off as elitist. An exercise: Sit down and make a list of everything you can think of that you would need to win the upcoming war. Next, show that list to someone and watch them point out an entire second list of things you overlooked. Repeat as many times as needed until you are comfortable with your list. Have everyone sit down and list the people/groups needed to make your list a reality. Notice that these are precisely the people who have no interest in helping run your war. We should all be happy that we funneled the critical mass of our “exceptional population” into mostly productive and nonviolent jobs with strong incentives. *Shakes everyone’s hand.* If your concern is that the war will be of the class orientation, of the classic 99% vs. 1% variety, I am not sure you were paying attention during the exercise.

      This was all very stream-of-consciousness-informal, so I apologize for any lack of rigor. I will end with a sort-of-joke a family friend told me recently, which I am sure he got from somewhere and I am rephrasing from memory: “Are you sure they want a civil war over X? Well alright, if it has come to that let’s put one together, send out the invitations, and kill everyone who shows up.”.

    • In many ways the period when there were just a few TV news stations that all tried to be non-partisan were a historical aberration for the US and what we’re seeing now is the norm. So in addition to the points Scott mentioned I don’t see it happening. Though smaller nations tend to have better government so I wouldn’t necessarily be unhappy about the US breaking up a bit.

    • James D. Miller says:

      The most likely way we get a U.S. civil war is if the results of a presidential election are contested, the losing side decides to ignore the verdict of the Supreme Court as illegitimate, and a few governors declare that they won’t respect federal authority if their candidate is not recognized as president.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ James D. Miller
        The most likely way we get a U.S. civil war is if the results of a presidential election are contested, the losing side decides to ignore the verdict of the Supreme Court as illegitimate, and a few governors declare that they won’t respect federal authority if their candidate is not recognized as president.

        This is the only scenario that registers on me as credible … and even so I cannot imagine it would turn into a shooting war and/or actual secession attempt. As others have mentioned, the people who would be needed as leaders or resource providers have no motive for actual shooting.

        What it could do, is hang up government paperwork making enough confusion that people in the right positions could take some of the money and run, and/or bargain for some longterm concessions.

    • NN says:

      Anyone trying to make the case that a civil war is likely in the near future would first have to explain who would be fighting whom for what end. What goal would be worth the immense effort and risk involved?

      Overthrow the government? What would you replace it with? America is already a Democracy, so even if you killed everyone currently in office they would be replaced by new people with pretty much exactly the same policies as soon as elections were held. Nobody seriously wants any other form of government, as both sides of the political divide regularly accuse their opponents of trying to undermine American Democracy.

      Secede from the United States? Political divisions in the US don’t follow geographical lines. I grew up in a very Red state in the Deep South, but because I lived in a relatively large city most of my friends were pretty clear Blues. If you were to start in the Bay Area and drive 100 miles East, then the majority of people at any town that you stopped in would be pretty clearly Red Tribe. While I do think that the Albion’s Seed “11 American nations” theory has merit, the important issues and alliances are split along urban/suburban/rural lines, which means that any conceivable secession would leave lots of people on the “wrong side” of the border.

      So unless someone can give me a scenario more specific than “we’ve been getting really polarized lately,” I’m not going to start worrying about Civil War 2.

      • Seth says:

        My view is again that any US civil war in the near future is likely to be along economic lines similar to the Great Depression, as opposed to the slavery/civil-rights conflicts. Thus the answer to your question of “who would be fighting whom for what end”, would be similar to what happened in the Great Depression. Large numbers of an unemployed or barely-employed public worried about calamity. Even with a loyal army, that’s a lot of people to shoot, which tends to cause more problems. Imagine if troops had opened fire on Occupy Wall Street, for example.

    • Logan says:

      Most of the comments seem to be of the opinion that war won’t happen, and I’m kind of convinced. So the question now, what is the end result of increasing polarization? If we keep becoming more divided, stop thinking of ourselves as one culture, have nothing in common with the other tribe, can’t agree on the legitimacy of our leaders, don’t want to associate economically or culturally with the other tribe, if we stop being a bell curve and become a bimodal distribution on the left-right political spectrum… What does that look like if it doesn’t end in a war?

      • Polarization converges on the norm for partisan news sources as opposed to the norm for the 19th century as opposed to the norm for the 20th. Quality of civic institutions probably doesn’t go down quite that far due to the all the structures the progressives put in place but they still go down. Or if things are go badly we end up doing stuff like Greece where political supporters are paid off in sinecures from new positions as opposed to sacking the previous office holders. In the US that would probably mean the frequent creation of new departments with redundant roles. On the other hand lower government quality means voters will be more supportive of less government.

        There’s a lot of ruin in a country and none of this is the end of the world. Despite the abysmal quality of the US government in the 19th century things mostly turned out pretty well, barring the civil war. It would certainly mean the US’s international clout would go way, way down.

        And, of course, all the above is very speculative.

  4. Douglas Knight says:

    Douthat used the N-word in the New York Times. It seems pretty pointless and dilutionary to me. What makes Houellebecq neo? Isn’t he just a reactionary? Does Douthat just mean “smart” by “neo”? He specifically invokes Moldbug, so he doesn’t just mean “contemporary.” He defines it as considering liberalism to be a disease, which doesn’t seem to me to distinguish them from any other reactionaries.

    • anon says:

      Houellebecq isn’t even a regular reactionary, he self identifies as a normal conservative

      • Anonymous says:

        Does that make him a transconservative?

      • The_Dancing_Judge says:

        if you read him you will be certain to revise your opinion. he certainly does not have “normal” conservative opinions on the world

        • anon says:

          I’ll revise my opinion that he considers himself a normal conservative? He’s said as much about himself in interviews

    • Yakimi says:

      New reactionaries” is the term used in France to refer to Houellebecq, Zemmour, and the like.

      I suppose what makes reactionaries like them and Mencius Moldbug “neo” is that they are, well, new. As with defining the New Left, it’s not just about what they believe, but who they are. They are not products of any reactionary cultural tradition (which went extinct with the aristocracy), nor are they the same degenerate losers who normally populate the far-right. They are former progressives, or at least would-be progressives, who for some reason have not assimilated the ideas of their cosmopolitan, culturally libertarian, and intellectually progressive milieu. Also, they are disproportionately Jewish.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Was that last bit really necessary? Everybody’s a little disproportionately Jewish.

        • Vaniver says:

          Did you read “disproportionately Jewish” as “they’re Jews, so we should gang up on them” or “they’re Jews, so we shouldn’t gang up on them”?

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          Everybody smart, anyway.

        • Anthony says:

          In general, “reactionary” has been disproportionately non-Jewish, except possibly in Israel. Reaction has mostly been a “blood and soil” or “throne and altar” ideology, and while the Hapsburg monarchy was a reasonably good place to be Jewish, Jews are excluded from nationalist, racialist, or explicitly Christian ideologies.

          So maybe it’s necessary to point out that neo-reaction includes Jews, especially in a European context.

        • nydwracu says:

          The néoréactionnaires are disproportionately Jewish even after you take into account that most movements are disproportionately Jewish. Whenever an English-language article comes out about it, I look up all the people mentioned in it, and sometimes there’s one or two people mentioned who aren’t Jewish. Sometimes.

        • Agronomous says:

          Everybody’s a little disproportionately Jewish.

          This is my new motto. I’m glad I put my coffee cup down before reading it.

      • Anonymous says:

        AFAIK, the “neo” part is because they weren’t raised reactionary, as opposed to folks who are descended from an unbroken line of reactionaries, raised reactionary from children.

    • Artemium says:

      Is this first time that MM and N.x were mentioned in NYT? I think Moldbug must feel satisfied, he finally got the attention from the the Cathedral core. Douhat is actually quite an interesting character, lately he is quite open in his wish to start a civil war in catholic church: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/18/opinion/sunday/the-plot-to-change-catholicism.html

      • Troy says:

        I believe it has been established in the past that Douthat reads Steve Sailer, so this isn’t too surprising.

        In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Douthat based his reading of Houllebecq partly on Sailer, who reviewed the book some months ago.

    • stillnotking says:

      Douthat’s concluding sentence firms up my theory that the word “decadence” is literally meaningless, or at least has zero predictive value.

  5. The_Dancing_Judge says:

    I read The Northern Caves….i wonder if anyone else read it as a depiction of utilitarianism? The whole i time couldnt help but translate the mundum into an awareness of the world’s failure to conform to an alignment that maximizes utility. And the burden of a “salbian” being the burden of one knowing of other arrangements, and the duty to attempt to create other arrangements, but also having the knowledge that maximizing utility will not be achieved, ever.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I thought of it as very anti-utilitarian; the whole weirdness of Mundum is that it has no consequences on the world or effect on real people. It’s like a reductio ad absurdum of non-utilitarian philosophies. I mean, think about Salby’s description of it as the arrangement of material objects. “We need to move that boulder ten meters to the left?” “Why?” “Because it’s the right thing to do.” It’s Hrogmorph all over again.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I think this is pretty similar to some religious versions of morality. “Why must we abstain from eating meat on Friday and persecute gay people; as opposed to abstaining from shrimp and persecuting oathbreakers ?” — “Because God is ineffable”.

      • Anonymous says:

        “We need to move that boulder ten meters to the left?” “Why?” “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

        I have no comment of substance. I just feel required to link to high quality Monty Python.

    • Bugmaster says:

      FWIW, I read it as a story about a group of forum dwellers who did a bunch of drugs, read some cryptic gibberish, and had a huge freakout.

      I understand the moral/epistemological themes, and I think they may have been interesting in another setting; but the core moral of the story is, as I see it, “kids, don’t do drugs”.

      • nydwracu says:

        I read it as “so, Italian Futurism, huh? when can we expect people to start writing like that again? or at least realizing that it’s a possibility?”, but I’m almost completely certain that was unintentional.

    • Muga Sofer says:

      I think it got a lot of it’s horror from hinting that Mundum was utilitarianism at the start, and then slowly revealing that it was just being seriously mentally ill.

    • stillnotking says:

      I thought “Mundum” was supposed to be a particularly convincing memetic hazard, a philosophy with no actual meaning in itself (Pleasing the sky? Moving bric-a-brac around?), but which tickled some oddball moral receptor of the mind to present itself as absolutely compelling. The crystal meth of ethics. It was more or less explicitly compared to drugs, right?

      I don’t think it maps well to any actual ethics, as far as content.

  6. MasteringTheClassics says:

    I stumbled across this recently, and, in light of Scott’s previous discussion of perceptions of reality causing things vs. reality itself causing things, I wonder if this is just more of the same, or if there is actually a case to be made for negative societal impressions of obesity causing ill health among the obese population. On the one hand it’s almost perfectly pattern-matched to the example of negative impressions of smoking causing lung cancer, but on the other there really are adverse health consequences from being shamed, shunned, etc.

    P.S. is there a page somewhere explaining the link system this comment section uses? ETA: Thank you Douglas

    Next question, how does one change the image that comes with each comment?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      (Re: PS) Yes! The page explaining the link system (called “HTML”) is here.

      • roystgnr says:

        If the comment boxes here used HTML,

        then this text, which contains no p or br tags, would appear as a single unbroken sentence.

        • You’re right, these comments technically aren’t HTML. This blog engine, WordPress, modifies the comment markup slightly before showing the HTML to other users. It looks for plain-text paragraphs and wraps them within <p> tags, and it filters out tags it deems insecure, such as <script>.

          You could say the comments use a non-standard, WordPress-specific dialect of HTML. But just calling it “HTML” should be enough to teach someone familiar with blogs how to achieve the formatting they want.

    • Evan Þ says:

      The image is some sort of hash of your email address. AFAIK, you can’t change it without changing your address (or using an alias, if your email provider supports them.)

      EDIT: Apparently AFAIK wasn’t very far.

      • 75th says:

        I believe the images are Gravatars; if this comment has my Mii next to it, then a search for “Gravatar” will set you in the right direction.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Why, thank you! I guess the email hash is the default gravatar for when you don’t have an account set up. Maybe I should go get one…

          … nah, I don’t mind the abstract pattern.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            … nah, I don’t mind the abstract pattern

            I predict that people’s tendency to hate their abstract gravitar is correlated with how much it resembles a swastika. It’s always a risk for a square design with rotational symmetry 🙂

    • meyerkev248 says:

      Next question, how does one change the image that comes with each comment?

      *Makes note to enable scripts on this page at some point*

    • 75th says:

      Replying as a child of your comment instead of a grandchild:

      Google “Gravatar” to change your image.

    • J says:

      To separate shame from weight, you could look for cultures that don’t mind so much; eg., I think Samoans tend to value being bigger, and will shame people for being too thin.

      • MasteringTheClassics says:

        Hmmm, I’m not sure the confounders involved could be fully mitigated, but it would be a good start, if nothing else. It doesn’t look like this study did that, though.

    • I recommend watching the video at the first link. Weight bias against patients is worse than I thought, and I’ve spent years reading about weight bias.

      • onyomi, at least some fraction of people gain additional weight after every diet. My impression is that the typical increase is twenty-five pounds. I suspect that some considerable part of the obesity epidemic is people dieting repeatedly and ending up 50 to 100 pounds heavier.

        I really recommend that you listen to Deiseach and that video about the medical neglect that fat people are subject to. Diagnosis by BMI is really common– any symptom (maybe not obvious bleeding from a wound) that a fat person that comes in with is likely to be completely ignored. They just get told to lose weight.

        More commonly, the result is a person who suffers from a treatable condition for a decade or more. Occasionally, it’s cancer, with neglect having rather more serious consequences.

        If a fat person’s symptoms include weight loss, this is likely to be considered to be a good thing, regardless of any indication that there might be a serious problem.

        A fat person who dies of medical neglect is presumably added to the statistics as someone who dies because obesity is so unhealthy.

        I’ve heard of very thin people running up against the diagnosis by BMI, too. Their symptoms are ignored in favor of them being told to gain weight.

        Have another variation on the BMI thing. I’ve been reading someone who’s got abdominal pain so serious that she can’t eat or sleep. She’s gotten a bunch of diagnoses, but no progress. At least medical marijuana has lifted her out of being suicidally depressed, but meanwhile, she’s run afoul of a doctor who hasn’t taken rapid weight loss seriously because she’s still in the normal range.

    • Deiseach says:

      Speaking as a fat person… 🙂

      I think the real effect, if any, of obesity bias is accessing medical treatment. First, think of all the commentary on here about effective diet and exercise programmes and what does and doesn’t work and gut microbiome and everything.

      Go to your GP and you’ll get the “diet and exercise” mantra, and if you’re lucky a third-generation photocopy of a ten-year old diet sheet. Now go forth and immediately lose ten or more years’ worth of weight before the next check-up or else you’re noncompliant!

      Second, it is virtually impossible to get any complaint considered on its own merits, rather than as an artifact of your weight. My grandmother (normal weight) was literally crippled by arthritis (her joints locked so she could not straighten her legs or bend her fingers and for the last twelve years of her life she was bed-bound); my mother, her daughter (normal weight) had to get gold injections in her wrists for treatment; my sister (normal weight) also has pains and stiffness in her hands and fingers.

      I’m not normal weight. I get pains and stiffness in my wrist and fingers. I’m concerned there’s a hereditary component, what with the family history. I go to my doctor.

      “Lose the weight”.

      Okay, I can see why excess weight puts strain on knee joints and back, but my fingers? What about my family history?

      “It’s not arthritis, it’s the weight. Lose the weight, no pains”.

      But my fingers?

      *feels my fingers* “You don’t have arthritis. Lose the weight, that’s all that’s wrong”.

      So basically, when you’re fat, you don’t go to the doctor because you already know what you’ll get told: “it’s because you’re fat, lose the weight”.

      I’m pretty sure I had a bout of pleurisy last year. Did I go to the doctor? What do you think? I know that turning up complaining of breathlessness and chest pains would have gotten me nothing more than “Lose the weight, you find it hard to breathe because you’re carrying too much weight”.

      Don’t even mention pains in the back as distinct from the chest; I couldn’t even get my doctor to investigate complaints of sharp pains between my shoulder blades which I was worried indicated lung problems like pleurisy, what with the pain when breathing and constant dry coughing and all the rest of it.

      So fat people only end up with medical intervention when things go badly wrong (e.g. you do collapse on the floor blue in the face unable to breathe and whaddya know it was pneumonia and not being a fatty is why you were wheezing for three weeks!) and then you get “But why didn’t you do something earlier? Fat people are so negligent about their health!”

      You also get accustomed to “I can’t weigh you, you’re too heavy for the scales” (where they’re using common household bathroom scales not medical ones, even in hospitals), blood pressure cuffs being too small, etc. so you can’t be properly examined, and generally being made to feel like an elephant in a world built for shrews.

      I’m not saying “fat is healthy”. I am saying it’s too convenient a “one size fits all” solution. I know if I was the same weight as my sister and turned up with the same wrist pains and family history, my concerns about developing arthritis would be taken more seriously.

      Ah well, you have to die of something! 🙂

      • Anon says:

        I’ve had fairly similar experience with doctors as a thin person in term of a startling lack of diagnosis. (Two separate occasions of a collapsed lung included) If you aren’t overweight you just get a non-answer of some other kind. I suspect it’s the nature of the field, most things aren’t too serious and can just be ignored. And to be fair, though it would’ve been nice to NOT have tried to cure a partially collapsed lung through light exercise, I did survive.

        This is not to diminish the bias there which seems quite likely, but I think that’s just part of it.

        FWIW my best success rate has been to try and get a referral to a specialist. A lung guy will recognize obvious lung problem symptoms right away, presumably. Plus it gives the clinic doc an easy out.

    • onyomi says:

      The obvious followup: is the shame felt by a fat person being shamed for their fatness more dangerous to their health than being fat? (I suspect the answer is no). And, secondly, does shaming fat people at all reduce their tendency to be fat? (I suspect the answer is yes).

      And if I’m right about the answers to the above questions, isn’t continuing or intensifying fat shaming the right thing to do? (May not be, as niceness might trump what is actually best for the people in question).

      I, for one, have observed a huge influence of peer groups on weight: my fiancee, when she worked in an office full of fat ladies, definitely gained weight; conversely, she lost weight after a brief trip to China. This was explicit: she said, “wow, I felt so fat when I went to China!” And I’m sure when she was working in the office of fat ladies she felt like the thin one. This is probably a big reason why American obesity is now self-perpetuating.

      Now, of course, seeing other people are thinner than you and being shamed for your fat are two different things, and I suspect the former is a more powerful influence, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter is a contributor too. Being different in any significant way from your peer group creates a kind of “social cognitive dissonance,” I think, and people will try to resolve it one way or the other. Shaming probably intensifies this dissonance.

      • Peter says:

        You also have to take into account other harmful effects of fat shaming. For example, weight cycling is reckoned to be pretty unhealthy (in fact there are suggestions it even makes people heavier long-term), and fat shaming is likely to contribute to that.

        • onyomi says:

          There probably are harmful effects of fat shaming (though I’m skeptical that yoyo dieting is one of them–I think, for most people, making some effort at weight loss, even if not entirely successful, is still better than no effort), and I’m not actually suggesting we should all shame fat people more.

          I am saying that I think we should be wary of treating obesity as “normal,” because I think the perceptions of one’s peer group play a big role in determining one’s own self-perception, which, in turn, shapes behavior. If you’re the skinniest of your friends, all of whom are obese, for example, you are much more likely to become obese yourself. In the US this has already happened, really: the standard for what counts as “fat” has shifted upward tremendously such that people who would have once been considered “fat” are now simply “normal,” and people who would have once been considered to have a severe problem are now considered only to have a mild problem.

          • I’m saying that there’s already so much fat-shaming that it’s a serious medical problem.

            Also, since this is a culture with a considerable amount of fat-shaming and yet people keep getting fatter (I’ve heard but not verified that weight increase has leveled off in recent years), it’s conceivable that fat-shaming doesn’t cause people to be less fat.

          • Sastan says:


            Fat shaming? We have almost none in our culture. Occasionally a “tough love” self help column about how you should lose weight, or “if I can do it, you can too”, but almost no straight up shaming.

            When an overweight person can’t get work or leave the house without being surrounded by children screaming “fatty” at him, we’ll have some shaming. But until then, let’s not play this game of “I once read an article that didn’t slavishly validate my worldview, I am therefore suffering more than any human in history” histrionics.

            I was re-reading some old Stout books, about his protagonist detective so vastly corpulent he was unable to leave the house, and had to have other people run all his errands for him. The book mentioned his weight in passing, two hundred and forty pounds. What a long way we’ve come.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, I’m also going to say that there is not actually a lot of fat-shaming in our society–certainly not compared to many other societies I’ve lived in–or, rather, not by the standards of other societies I’ve lived in (where the threshold for being seen to have a serious problem is much lower).

            In the US, I have known many, many, many somewhat overweight people (probably applies to the majority of Americans at this point), and myself been somewhat overweight. Most of these people, who would have been “very overweight” by the standards of 50 or 100 years ago, receive little or no negative attention of the sort one might seriously call “fat shaming.”

            I have also had a few close friends who were, at various times, and to various extents, very seriously overweight, even by today’s standards–think pre-surgery Chris Christie. These people have experienced a certain degree of negative social consequences that might in some cases, rise to the level of “fat shaming,” but more of the nature of receiving a lot of unsolicited advice, worried looks, etc. than of like, little children taunting them in the street or something.

            Now, what’s interesting is that in Asia, where people have basically a 1920s standard of what counts as fat, people who are simply *somewhat* overweight by US standards receive all the negative repercussions that the extremely obese feel in the US–unable to buy clothes at a normal store, concerned looks, unsolicited advice, etc.

            So it may just be that, when you are a certain number of deviations above whatever the average in your society is, then you start to get the negative attention. And I DO think it makes a difference, because people don’t like negative attention. I think the memes which say, basically, “I could lose weight if everyone would stop making me feel bad all the time,” are kidding themselves.

            That said, I think it’s probably not explicit ridicule that keeps peoples’ weight roughly in line with that of their peers, but just the general desire not to stand out too much.

        • Anonymous says:

          What do you mean by ‘shame’? Is it fat shaming to prefer to date people who are not fat? To praise formerly fat people who have lost a lot of weight? To find slim people more attractive than fat people?

          I really don’t like this word because it sounds like it means something that nobody would support – something like shouting abuse at fat people in the street – while it seems to be used to mean things that almost everyone does and nobody would oppose – such as having the opinion that obesity is unattractive.

          • Urstoff says:

            I think some people do promote actively shaming obese people in various social contexts (rather than just passively preferring other people, which seems unobjectionable); of course, this is just anecdotal from what I’ve seen random internet commenters say, so maybe it isn’t an actual thing in society at large.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            Google “fatpeoplehate”.

          • Sastan says:

            Pretty much this. People create a fantasy about how horrible it is, then go searching for any innocuous situation they can shoehorn into it, validating their victim complex.

            Happens all the time in discussions of rape and sexual assault.

            “How dare you slut shame?”

            “Well, we’re not slut shaming, we’re saying that you accused a man of rape, and you have seven separate samples of male DNA in you, but not his”.


            et cetera

      • dndnrsn says:

        Personal pressure (which includes negative “fat shaming” but could include more positive things) has the problem of only addressing part of the equation.

        We live in a society where tasty, high-calorie-density processed food is easily available, cheap, and advertised pretty much everywhere. Social pressure on fat people is probably less ubiquitous.

        Additionally, how likely is negative social pressure, sporadically applied, to motivate long-term positive change?

    • TrivialGravitas says:

      It might be a factor, but if it were dominant we’d see say, high diabetes rates among white gay men. I couldn’t find any data, but I’m skeptical that’s happening and nobody noticed. (ignoring medical neglect, which that article also seems to ignore).

      I also can’t figure out a way for it to explain the obesity paradox (2/3rds of obese people are already sick with a weight related disease but the remaining one third has no to marginally higher chance of getting those diseases than healthy thin people).

  7. houseboatonstyx says:

    That may be a little too frequent for an open thread, I’m not sure yet.

    I think the best of both worlds would be frequent open threads plus an easier way to continue serious discussions from the previous threads. Maybe the reddit ssc could take up more slack if the link to it were posted permanently here, perhaps under Meta.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I sometimes wonder why people don’t use later open threads to not only continue past open thread topics, but also as an excuse to reset the indent on the longer discussions.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m not worried about people losing previous discussion topics so much as newcomers to the blog being turned off by half the posts not having any content, plus weird puns.

    • I like the idea of the sub being for ongoing/long-term discussion on very specific topics. Just linking each article isn’t valuable imho. Needs Scott to link to the sub in multiple places though. Depends if Scott wants to maximise exposure of his articles, or build a anti-Moloch cult^H^H^Hcommunity. I’d love him to do the latter, but understandably I think he’s aiming more for the former.

  8. blacktrance says:

    As long as open threads are accumulating over a thousand posts a week, I would prefer them to be weekly.

  9. Paul Brinkley says:

    A few weeks ago, I asked what people thought of Heterodox Academy, but I think it was too late after the thread opened and no one noticed. I’m still interested in whether anyone else has come across it.

    • TrivialGravitas says:

      This is my first encounter with them (as a whole, several familiar names). I’m generally in favor of the idea we need to reexamine the political divide in the non economic social sciences, but I’ve also been disappointed in every character so far in that I’ve found them to be unscrupulous liars who will say anything to bash liberals.

      With that skeptical eye in mind, aside from the involvement of Lee Jussim (who claims the liberal establishment is bad because it won’t let him use p>.1 correlations to bash liberals in peer reviews publications) I’m not seeing any warning flags in 20 minutes of reading. I’ll have to spend more time on it.

      • Torpendous says:

        You think Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, and Phil Tetlock are the sort who will “say anything to bash liberals”? All three are eminent academics who seem pretty reasonable to me.

      • shemtealeaf says:

        I’m curious how Lee Jussim got a reputation as a basher of liberals. I took several classes with him at Rutgers, and my memory was that he was, if not liberal, at least solidly Blue Tribe. He actually spent a surprisingly large amount of time railing against intelligent design, to the point where even atheists like me found it off-putting.

        • TrivialGravitas says:


          This is the specific thing that set me off on him. I took it seriously at first, and especially the claim that “the pattern is right there, in the data reported in tables and figures, for anyone to see.” I looked up the paper and it showed no such thing, not only was p>.05 it was p>.1

          So either this entire post is bullshit, he seriously tried to put his name on a paper that said liberals are more biased than conservatives despite no statistically significant correlation, or they faked the data in order to get published.

          Edit: he responded to me in that post, which I had not expected given its age. His response is *utterly* incoherent (RWA and SDO are not the same thing as conservatism) but I withdraw accusations of dishonesty.

    • anon says:

      The latest post, “Why are there so few non-liberals in social psychology? A closer look” cites Conservapedia as representing the modal conservative position. I eagerly await their next article, where they cite Rational Wiki as the modal rationalist position.

      • Urstoff says:

        Well, at least it shows that the authors are solidly blue given that they have no clue about conservative positions.

        • TrivialGravitas says:

          I don’t think the site is so well coordinated that it reflects on more than that particular author.

  10. 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.

          • Tanks says:


            Harvey Milk: pretty heavy. The loud parts reminded me of the Melvins a bit. But there was also something weak-sounding about it, and I keep coming back to the vocals. Heavy music has to sound strong.

            Shining’s KC cover was cool. King Crimson to me sounds a bit too theatrical/neoclassical to be really heavy though.

            The grindcore link didn’t sound heavy at all. See “frat boy belching” above.

            @Montfort: gojira didn’t sound very heavy to me either. The lyrics and vocal delivery were very theatrical, and the instrumental component was all sad clown/minor key stuff. I guess heavy music should sound angry rather than sad.

        • Montfort says:

          I am consistently surprised by how few discussions of black metal involve Zyklon-B, though I suppose with just one EP, there’s only so much to be said. My tastes don’t actually run that deep in the genre, though I”ll toss in some favorable references to 1349 and Minenwerfer. Oddly, every time I sit down to listen to black metal I think it’s really great, but I find myself skipping over it all the time when it’s mixed with other subgenres.

          I find grindcore under-appreciated and unreservedly recommend Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Pig Destroyer.

          In general, I find it hard to follow new releases in metal. Do people actually read metal news sites? Are there reviewers that aren’t obnoxious?

    • Wrong Species says:

      Have you heard Dream Theater?

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        Maybe I’m a bit disconnected with the mainstream, but isn’t Dream Theater pretty much the most popular Prog Metal band, by a pretty big margin?

    • nydwracu says:

      Speaking of metal, the title prompted me to put together a metal playlist.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Google Yat-Kha, or indeed their main lead singer Albert Kuvezin (if you can find Charash Karaa, that song shows off his voice very well) and you will understand why the death metal growl disappoints me. Kuvezin proves that it is possible to have an unearthly, powerful subsonic rumble of a voice, that is nevertheless melodic, and yet most metal singers do not train themselves in his technique, but in the tuneless growl instead.

      • Urstoff says:

        The death growl (which does come in many different “tonalities”, to abuse the term a bit) can sometimes be just a lack of creativity, but often it is very impressive and fits the music more than the sung alternative. Consider Randy Blythe from Lamb of God or Trevor Strnad from The Black Dahlia Murder; both have very dynamic growling voices that also combine more of a black metal screech when appropriate, and I can’t think of any sung vocals that would suit that music any better.

        • I have, over the years, come to develop a strong preference for the death growl or scream over regular vocal delivery. Part of this is simple habit: that’s what I listened to when I first started listening to metal, and everything else sounds fake to me. But I really haven’t heard many metal bands whose non-growling vocal delivery matches the theme and doesn’t sound frankly awful.

          That said, a metal band with the vocal style of Yat-Kha would be true metal indeed.

          • nydwracu says:

            This is the third or fourth comment where I’ve namedropped Harvey Milk, but they pull off clean vocals well. Creston Spiers has a similar train-barreling-down-a-mountain voice to Michael Gira, but more so. (Not to be confused with a train-whistle voice, like the singer in Nazgûl.)

            Caladan Brood and Heidevolk also pull off clean vocals well.

            Nine Treasures uses throat singing. There are some other Mongolian folk metal bands, but Ego Fall doesn’t use it and I’m not sure whether Tengger Cavalry does.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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?

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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?

  23. 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.

  24. 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.”

  25. 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].