Hardball Questions For The Next Debate

Dr. Carson:

One of your most important achievements as a neurosurgeon was inventing the functional hemispherectomy, a treatment for epilepsy in which the epileptic hemisphere of the brain is severed from the healthy hemisphere and the body, allowing the healthy hemisphere to have full control of the body free from any epileptic interference. Children who get a functional hemispherectomy sufficiently early will be partly paralyzed on one side, but they will mostly be seizure-free.

Standard hemispherectomies remove the epileptic hemisphere from the body, but that tended to cause hydrocephalus, so your technique instead just severed all of its sensory and motor connections, leaving it present but inert.

But an anonymous neuroscientist on Reddit expressed some concern that just as the functional hemisphere seems to develop full independent personhood after the split, so the epileptic hemisphere may do so as well. Obviously it remains impaired by the epilepsy, but it’s not seizing all the time, so there will still be comparatively lucid intervals.

So my question for you is – what do you think happens to that person who is in an empty hemisphere, locked out of all sensory input and motor control? Do you think they’re conscious? Do you think they’re wondering what happened? Do you think they’re happy that the other half of them is living a happy normal life? Do they sit rapt in unconditioned contemplation of their own consciousness like an Aristotelian god? Or do they go mad with boredom, constantly desiring their own death but unable to effect it?

Ms. Fiorina:

One of the issues that’s played a central role in your campaign is your belief that the Ottoman Empire was the greatest civilization in the world. Certainly their five-hundred-plus year reign was marked by impressive military, political, and artistic achievements. But I want to bring up a particular aspect of Ottoman governance today.

One of the really unique Ottoman innovations was its so-called “millet system”, where every ethnicity and religion was almost its own little empire-within-an-empire. For example, although the Ottoman Empire was itself Muslim, Christians within it got their own millet, led by the Patriarch of Constantinople. They made their own laws, which applied only to Christians, settled disputes between two Christian claimants, levied taxes from Christians to pay for Christian-related projects, and generally kept their own people in line. When the Ottoman Empire as a whole wanted something from its Christian population, the Sultan would meet with the Patriarch and they would hammer it out. There were similar structures in place for Jews, Armenians, et cetera.

The past few years have seen an almost unprecedented rise in identity politics in America, usually marked by the claim that the society is using its weight to kick around people of some identity or another. Society is kicking around blacks. Society is kicking around conservative Christians. Society is kicking around bisexuals. They all feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick, but a lot of their preferences are mutually exclusive, and it’s hard to imagine some kind of centralized government policy that could satisfy any of them.

As an admirer of the Ottoman Empire, you’d be in a uniquely good position to import some of the advantages of the millet system into the modern Western world. Obviously this would be complicated given all the conflicting identity claims and the close quarters in which everyone is intermingled, but there are already some visions of what it could look like – including my own Archipelago – and if it were raised to the level of a national discussion, people could no doubt come up with many more.

So my question for you is – weren’t you a pretty crappy CEO?

Mr. Bush:

Assume that fitness-to-be-President is a normally distributed trait with known heritability. Suppose also that past elections have 100% efficiency; that is, they always choose the most qualified candidate. We can then use some of the standard regression-to-the-mean equations to determine the chances that the highest fitness-to-be-President individual in generation G will be the offspring of the highest fitness-to-be-President individual in generation G-1.

The single most fit-to-be president man in a population of 300 million would be about six standard deviations above the norm. If that man breeds with the single most fit-to-be-president woman, and if in keeping with findings for other complex traits heritability is about 60%, we would expect their offspring to be about 3.6 standard deviations above the mean in fitness-to-be-president. One in every 2500 or so people is 3.6 standard deviations above average, meaning there would be at least 120,000 equally good or better presidential candidates than they in the United States.

How high would the heritability of presidential fitness have to be before there was at least a 10% chance that the offspring of the two most presidential Americans was himself presidential material? My calculations suggest about 90%, which is very high compared to what we know about similar traits – but actually not entirely outside the realm of plausibility.

But if a maximally-presidential man breeds with a woman who is less than maximally presidential, the odds fall precipitiously. Suppose that a maximally-presidential man breeds with a woman who is merely in the 99th percentile for presidential ability. Now given a heritability of 60% there will be three million Americans more presidential than their average offspring. Even given a 100% heritability, there is only a 1/73 chance that their offspring will themselves be worthy of the presidency.

So my question for you is: do you think Barbara Bush is an unrecognized political super-genius, or are there probably hundreds of thousands of Americans who would make a better president than you would?

Senator Cruz:

You were on your college debate team, and you were good at it. Really good. You won the national championships and you were pretty widely believed to be the best debater in the country. Quite an achievement. But my worry is – which is more likely? That the best debater in the country would also be the best choice for President? Or that he would be really really really good at making us think that he would be?

Don’t respond yet. Before you answer that question – well, before you answer any question – we’ve got to think about this on the meta-level. There’s a classic problem in epistemology. Suppose that we have a superintelligence with near-infinite rhetorical brilliance. The superintelligence plays a game with interested humans. First, it takes the hundred or so most controversial topics, chooses two opposing positions on each, writes the positions down on pieces of paper, and then puts them in a jar. Then it chooses one position at random and tries to convince the human of that position. We observe that in a hundred such games, every human player has left 100% convinced of the position the superintelligence drew from the jar. Now it’s your turn to play the game. The superintelligence picks a position from the jar. It argues for the position. The argument is supremely convincing. After hearing it, you are more sure that the position is true than you have ever been of anything in your life; there’s so much evidence in favor that it is absolutely knock-down obvious. Should you believe the position?

The inside view tells you yes; upon evaluating the argument, you find is clearly true. The outside view tells you no; judging from the superintelligence’s past successes, it could have convinced you equally well of the opposite position. If you are smart, you will precommit to never changing your mind at all based on anything the superintelligence says. You will just shut it out of the community of entities capable of persuading you through argument.

Senator Cruz, you may not quite be at the superintelligence level, but given that you’ve been recognized as the most convincing person out of all three hundred million Americans, shouldn’t we institute similar precautions with you? Shouldn’t your supporters, even if they agree with everything you are saying, precommit to ignore you as a matter of principle?

Senator Rubio:

When you became Florida’s Speaker of the House, one of the other men on stage here tonight, Jeb Bush, presented you with a golden sword, which he said was the “Sword of Chang”. He told you that “Chang is somebody who believes in conservative principles, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism, believes in moral values that underpin a free society. Chang, this mystical warrior, has never let me down.” You looked pretty excited about it.

Now, some might say that this all came from a giant misunderstanding. Back in the late 1940s, Mao Zedong’s victorious Chinese communists forced Chiang Kai-shek’s defeated Chinese nationalists to retreat to the island of Taiwan. The United States kept the peace in the the Taiwan Strait, mostly to prevent Mao from invading and finishing the job, but a common refrain in 1950s conservativism went that we should “unleash Chiang”; that is, advise Chiang Kai-Shek to go back across the strait and reconquer China. George H. W. Bush served as envoy to China, had to listen to this sort of stuff, and got annoyed enough at the “unleash Chiang” rhetoric that he would quote it ironically at bizarre times, like his documented habit of threatening that his serve would “unleash Chiang” on his tennis opponents. It’s unclear how we got from George H. W. Bush’s constant threats to “unleash Chiang” on people, to his son’s belief that Chang was a mystical conservative warrior. Maybe it was a joke, either Bush Sr. pranking Jeb or Jeb pranking you.

In any case, you hung the sword in “a place of honor in your office”. From that point forward, Jeb’s fortunes declined. He left the Florida governorship, failed to get any further high positions, and then ran a very lackluster Presidential campaign. But from that same point your own fortunes decidedly rose. You started a law firm, were appointed a professor, got elected to the Senate, and are currently running a spectacular Presidential campaign with most pundits betting on your eventual victory after Trump and Carson lose their shine. The connection between the transfer of the sword and the sudden switch in both your fortunes is so striking that even the Huffington Post, not normally a source for magic-sword-related journalism, wrote about it: Jeb’s Last Hope – Reclaim the Sword of Chang.

But here we have a conundrum: if there was never a mythical Chinese warrior named Chang, by what magic does this sword grant worldly success to its possessor and ignomious ruin to any who lose it? There is a legend that fits almost exactly: the tale of the Holy Lance, aka the Spear of Destiny, aka several other portentious sounding names. According to the story, this relic from Christ’s crucifixion grants victory to all who own it and swift ruin to all who lose it. Charlemagne was reputedly the first to make use of its power; he was unstoppable while he wielded it but died moments after dropping it during battle. The same pattern repeated with Frederick Barbarossa, then a host of other military leaders, until finally it passed to the Austrian Habsburgs. They realized its power, locked it away, and ended up winning the greatest empire in European history. Supposedly Hitler was obsessed with it, so much so that his fascination with the object inspired the depiction of Nazi archaeologists in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and he took it for himself after the Anschluss. As the war wound down, the relic caught the special attention of General George Patton, who brought it back safely to Vienna afterwards. But ever since that time there have been various rumors that it was a fake, and that Nazi sympathizers took the real Lance in preparation for the time when the Reich would rise again.

The book Secrets of the Holy Lance describes one possible route by which the artifact might have been smuggled out of Europe:

Reporters John Buchanan and Stacey Michael cite recently declassified documents from the US National Archives that indicate that Prescott Bush “failed to divest himself of more than a dozen enemy national relationships that continued until as late as 1951. Bush conducted business following the end of World War II with moving assets into the Nazi refuges of Argentina, Panama, and Brazil.

So Prescott Bush was involved in moving Nazi “assets” from conquered Europe to South American refuges, presumably including the true Lance. Far be it from me to impugn his business ethics, but I don’t remember Nazi refugees in Argentina becoming an unstoppable force aided by a weapon of legendary mystical power. On the other hand, I do remember Prescott Bush being elected to the United States Senate just a few years later. Then his son and the presumed heir of his property was elected US President. Then his son was also elected US President. I need not add that according to the the laws of genetics, the chance of this happening by coincidence is hundreds-of-thousands to one even assuming implausibly high heritability of the fitness-to-be-president trait. Then his other son starts rocketing up through the ranks right up until the moment he gave you the sword of Chang, a sword named after a weird Bush family in-joke about a Chinese mystical warrior who doesn’t exist.

I think we can start to sketch out a plausible explanation here. Hitler didn’t want the Holy Lance falling into the hands of his enemies, so he replaced it with a fake and hired Nazi-artifact-smuggler Prescott Bush to transport the real one to safety in South America. Bush realized what he had, handed the South Americans a second fake, and kept the real one for himself, reforging it from a lance into a sword to cover his tracks – an action entirely in character for Prescott Bush, whose other relic-stealing adventures include the theft of Geronimo’s skull. He died unexpectedly without getting the chance to explain the significance of the artifact to his son George H. W. Bush. But since it seemed like a sentimentally important heirloom, George took care of his father’s weird golden sword anyway. When his sons asked him about it he didn’t have a real answer, so he just made his favorite in-joke about “unleashing Chiang”, and they believed him. Then eventually it passed to George W, later on to Jeb, and then Jeb thought it would be a funny present to give you to honor your election as Florida speaker.

Obviously the Lance is a significant strategic asset for America, and I imagine if you were President then its aura of victory would apply to the country as well, much as the Habsburgs’ possession of the lance enlarged Austria-Hungary. However, its powers are generally held to come from the Antichrist.

So my question for you is, do you think it’s ethical to use your magic sword to channel the power of the Antichrist if that would ensure America’s military success?

Mr. Trump:

You are famous both for your vast corporate empire and for your tendency to name the pieces of that corporate empire after yourself. By my count there are six buildings named “Trump Tower”, ten named some variation on “Trump Hotel”, a Trump Building, a Trump Palace, and a Trump Estate. You founded a financial services group called Trump Mortgage, a modeling agency called Trump Model Management, a bottled water brand called Trump Ice, and a magazine called Trump Magazine. You also started an airline called Trump Airlines, a TV company called Trump Productions, a book series called Trump Books, and your own radio talk show called Trumped!. There are also several Trump-themed games, like Donald Trump’s Real Estate Tycoon and Trump: The Game.

Mother Jones wrote a great article on this last one. Trump: The Game seems to be a tacky Monopoly clone. Players move around a board and bid on properties, and when one of them gets locked out of bidding for a property the other player gets to say “YOU’RE FIRED” the same way you do on your show. The only way to get back in to a property once you’ve been fired is to use the game’s most powerful card, which has a picture of your face on it and is called “The Donald”.

My question for you is: WHY DIDN’T YOU CALL IT THE TRUMP CARD?!?!!!!111111111asdfdf

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

574 Responses to Hardball Questions For The Next Debate

  1. Scott Alexander says:

    Extra questions in case there is more time at the end:
    — Did Donald Trump’s high-energy-physics genius uncle help cover up Tesla’s death ray?
    — And why did Rand Paul try to force a woman to bow before AquaBuddha?

    • Jesse F says:

      Was excluding Rand from the main post an intentional joke?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        No, I just couldn’t find anything on him better than Aqua Buddha, and that didn’t meet my standards.

        EDIT: Also “You and Bashar al-Assad are both former ophthalmologists. If you have to meet for a peace conference, do you think that will help you see eye to eye?”

        • Skip Tracer says:

          Better than getting high before kidnapping a female and trying to get her high with you before forcing her to bow before your god, Aqua Buddha?

          • Deiseach says:

            And now I am going to derail all the fun by pointing out this is exactly the kind of thing that not alone feminists point at when talking about “rape culture”, it’s what women have in the back of their minds.

            From the guys’ point of view, it was merely a harmless fun jape. They didn’t mean anything other than the usual young adult stupidity males engage in when they get intoxicated and bravado takes over.

            But the woman they forced along didn’t know that. Two guys you vaguely know show up mildly high and drag you along with them, try to get you to take what they’re taking, then bundle you off to the woods.

            If the back of your mind isn’t screaming alarms about possible rape and/or murder, then if your dead body is eventually found, somebody will surely say “But why on earth did she let two guys she barely knew into her room? Why did she go with them? She was asking for it!”

            She was lucky that it was only forcing her to bow to AquaBuddha. Suppose she had refused? What if they got violent because this made them angry because they were impaired while under the influence? At the very least, they might have left her dumped in the woods with no means of transport, nobody else knowing where she was, and no means of contacting anyone to say “I’m five miles away from town, I have no money or anything, please come get me”.

            I know, I know: “not all men”. But unfortunately, the men who do don’t come with convenient tattoos on their forehead identifying them as “harmless while drunk/high” and “liable to turn nasty when drunk/high”.

            Think of how Chappaquiddick was constantly brought up against Ted Kennedy, and imagine the consequences if the pair of them had left her dumped in the woods and then something happened to her. For a start, I don’t think Rand Paul would ever be mentioned as a potential Presidential candidate.

          • Anonymous says:

            I shouldn’t think anyone here would let themselves be caught saying “not all men”; surely a rationalist would be as precise as possible concerning the proportion of men. Almost all of us? Hardly any? Do you have the statistics to hand? Are we even clear on what you’re measuring?

          • Urstoff says:

            ∃x(Mx & Rx)

          • JBeshir says:

            I think moving to talk about proportions of men who do awful things is also kind of misdirected.

            As I understand it, the core of the matter isn’t an assertion about the proportion of men that do horrible things, but an assertion that most to almost all women often perceive a threat from men and this makes some situations very distressing in ways that are under-appreciated.

            I think the central objection to the “not all men” response is that by moving to a discussion of whether ‘men’ should be blamed/lowered in status as a group, you’re moving away from constructive talk about improving things.

            Discussing of exactly what *proportion* of men do terrible things is more intellectual, but changing focus immediately to it has the same basic problem of switching to thinking about blame allocation instead of actually collaborating on making the problem better.

            It might be useful, done a little, in coming up with solutions, but one needs to resist the defensive impulse to treat it as the main question.

          • Cauê says:

            As I understand it, the core of the matter isn’t an assertion about the proportion of men that do horrible things, but an assertion that most to almost all women often perceive a threat from men and this makes some situations very distressing in ways that are under-appreciated.


            Discussing of exactly what *proportion* of men do terrible things is more intellectual, but changing focus immediately to it has the same basic problem of switching to thinking about blame allocation instead of actually collaborating on making the problem better.

            It might be useful, done a little, in coming up with solutions, but one needs to resist the defensive impulse to treat it as the main question.

            If the problem is perception of threat, the question of just how accurate those perceptions are is a necessary part of figuring out how to “make the problem better”.

            In fact, compare: As I understand it, the core of the matter isn’t an assertion about the proportion of [Muslims/black men] that do horrible things, but an assertion that most to almost all [white Americans] often perceive a threat from [Muslims/black men] and this makes some situations very distressing in ways that are under-appreciated.

            Surely “those perceptions are not accurate” is an important part of the answer, to the extent that those perceptions are not accurate.

            (Also, how did this become the topic?)

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            >(Also, how did this become the topic?)

            Such is the treacherous nature of Aqua Buddha

          • The following is a slight rewording of JBeshir’s reply, intended to provoke thought and make you feel uncomfortable. I have replaced “man” with “black” and “woman” with “white”:

            I think moving to talk about proportions of blacks who do awful things is also kind of misdirected.

            As I understand it, the core of the matter isn’t an assertion about the proportion of blacks that do horrible things, but an assertion that most to almost all whites often perceive a threat from blacks and this makes some situations very distressing in ways that are under-appreciated.

            I think the central objection to the “not all blacks” response is that by moving to a discussion of whether ‘blacks’ should be blamed/lowered in status as a group, you’re moving away from constructive talk about improving things.

            Discussing of exactly what *proportion* of blacks do terrible things is more intellectual, but changing focus immediately to it has the same basic problem of switching to thinking about blame allocation instead of actually collaborating on making the problem better.

            It might be useful, done a little, in coming up with solutions, but one needs to resist the defensive impulse to treat it as the main question.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @JBeshir: The proportion of men who do horrible thing is extraordinarily important to determining the correct response to women’s claims of feeling threatened. Anyone can feel threatened, but if sexual assaults are as rare as, say, shark attacks, then a good solution might simply be to tell women to suck it up, whereas if they are as common as car crashes, perhaps it would be a good idea for a male relative of the girl to chaperon all dates. And, of course, if there really is a college rape epidemic that such that one in five women will be raped while on campus, then only a madman would send his daughters to college.

          • keranih says:

            The proportion of men who do horrible thing is extraordinarily important to determining the correct response to women’s claims of feeling threatened.

            And if we don’t have a fairly accurate idea of how many people do horrible things, or how threatened women claim to feel, how on earth will we know if Thing One that we do to fix the situation is actually helping, is making it worse, or is just wasting money?

            (cue rant on how “making it easier for women to report assault” and “educating men on the importance of not committing assault” are – above and beyond the other issues with these responses – possibly acting against each other, so that we have no idea what changes in criminal action rates are actually going on.)

            If you’re just thinking about things, that’s philosophy. To properly Do Science, you need measurements.

          • Urstoff says:

            Because feeling safe is as important as being safe and all feelings are legitimate.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Because feeling safe is as important as being safe and all feelings are legitimate.

            Congratulations; you have created utility monsters. Watch as your stated intention to bend over backward until people feel safe incentives them to feel threatened by everything under the sun.

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s not a utility monster, that’s just a regular perverse incentive (albeit a nasty one).

          • Anonymous says:

            Why does it seem that the commenters here are talking about two different types? Deiseach seems to be referring to the individual men who actually carry out the “harmless japes” and others to blacks/muslims/what-have-you who haven’t, themselves, done anything. The fear that _you_ may harm me, because of how you’re interacting with me, is more evidence-based than the fear that you may harm me because someone who resembles you did something bad.

          • Cauê says:

            Anon, Deiseach’s post did mention the “not-all-men” thing, albeit in passing, but it was JBeshir’s post that introduced the “yes-all-women” topic, and “exactly what proportion is not important”, which is what people have been replying to.

          • JBeshir says:

            My point was in response to the person who pointed out that as an intelligent community people would surely talk about proportions rather than throwing out a simple “not all men”, and the key part of my position is that doing so makes you sound sophisticated but doesn’t actually change much.

            “Only 3% of men according to studies” is not really a more useful response than “not all men”; you’re still looking at blame allocation, pointing out your group shouldn’t be blamed collectively, and then moving on.

            I agree that proportions are something you would want to look at in the course of finding a solution, just as pointing out the “not all men” thing is relevant to finding a solution, and the extent to which the concern in various situations aligns with the actual risk of those situations is important in solving things.

            But I stand by the position that jumping straight to talking about proportions as the question to be answered is, just as with the “not all men” thing, failing to engage with the parts of the issue outside of making sure you aren’t blamed, and so a temptation to resist.

            Edit: The point about how we have strong norms against people being allowed to act extra cautious around members of other groups solely on their group membership, and doubly so against making policy to alleviate group membership based fear, is a good one.

            I can see that there’s reasonable concerns about things tilting into collective punishment/collective disadvantaging there, and pointing out that “not all [group]” is a way to point out that if your solution disadvantaged [group] you would be doing that.

            I don’t think it breaks my point that saying “only 3% of men according to studies” as a response isn’t resolving the objections to saying “not all men” as a response, but it does raise interesting questions about how such objections fit into practical and fair expectations in the first place which I don’t have an immediate answer to that I can give in a comment.

          • dab says:

            The rate or likelihood of bad things happening is of cardinal importance, always. We all, even all non-rationalists, do this kind of risk-assessment permanently, in some kind of subconscious subroutine.
            Based on FBI statistics, in the US, a randomly selected male is nine times as likely to murder you than a randomly-selected female, and a randomly-selected black person also about nine times as likely as a randomly-selected white person. Yes, this means that a randomly-selected black man is close to one hundred times as likely to murder you than a randomly-selected white woman. These are just the baseline stats that apply _in the absence_ of any additional information. Of course your black math teacher is rather less likely to attack you than some swivel-eyed dishevelled white woman pouncing you in a back alley after dark. We all know this, and we all do these sorts of calculations literally all the time in the back of our heads. It is just _verboten_ to verbalize it in polite society (actually for some inscrutable reason, mention of the factor 9 between sexes seems to be more acceptable than that between races) — but rationalists are supposed to verbalize this stuff, if only to cross-check if the gut-level calculations are plausible.
            My personal estimate is that an average adult person will begin to feel uneasy or in danger if their chance of death or serious injury rises significantly above 10^-5 on a given day. I believe it can be shown that if safety is increased significantly above this, people will become more risk-prone in reaction until their risk is again close to this threshold (e.g. seat-belts lead to more risky driving until the average risk of dying in a crash is back to the “acceptable” threshold). The figure, 10^-5/day or whatever it is (considerably higher for young males and anyone with excess testosterone), is probably an evolved fit relevant to an expected lifetime reasonable for the purposes of the ancestral environment (where “ancestral” may mean various things, paleolithic or medieval, depending on the selective pressures on your forebears).

          • Urstoff says:

            @jaimeastorga2000 and nornagest

            Indeed, just pointing out the motivating premise.

          • Murphy says:


            the average “background risk” is close to one micromort per hour (All causes) for a normal person, so your 10^-5 is probably in the right order of magnitude. 10^-5 would be 10 micromorts so about half the normal “background risk” level.

            Homicide is about 10 micromorts per year but I suspect that someone would be more distressed by being told that there’s a 10x increase in the chances of them being murdered this year vs being told that there’s a 10% increase in the chance of getting cancer this year even if the latter is far more likely to actually kill them.


            You say she was “forced along” and people are talking about it as if they grabbed her and bundled her screaming into a van but re-reading it with her disclaimers in mind it sounds more like a couple of friends turning up at her dorm and were like “hey, mind if we blindfold you and take you on a mystery journey” and she was like like “sure, ok” and ending the evening bowing to an idol in the woods.

            There’s a big difference there. One is actually kidnapping and the other is someone putting their trust in someone of their own free will.

            Yes, fear can run through someones mind but banning people from doing things which *may* lead to women thinking “oh no, what if the person I’m with is actually a rapist axe murderer” leads to either.

            1: excluding women entirely from any situations where the person they’re with could, in theory, murder them and dump their body in a ditch which would be straightforward discrimination

            2: banning everyone from getting into situations where they’re with a person who could, in theory, murder them and dump their body in a ditch which really covers a *lot* of situations and pretty much disallows anyone putting trust in anyone.

          • Cauê says:


            The point about how we have strong norms against people being allowed to act extra cautious around members of other groups solely on their group membership, and doubly so against making policy to alleviate group membership based fear, is a good one.

            I can see that there’s reasonable concerns about things tilting into collective punishment/collective disadvantaging there, and pointing out that “not all [group]” is a way to point out that if your solution disadvantaged [group] you would be doing that.

            There’s more to it than that.

            Many people in the world worry about demonic possession (to take an extreme example from downthread). Others worry about vaccines, about cellphone radiation, about GM food, “toxins”, shark attacks, cancer, cardiovascular diseases. These are all “legitimate” worries insofar as I have trouble calling feelings ilegitimate. But they are very different from each other in that they are entangled with more or less accurate beliefs about how the world is.

            There’s no way you can decide how to deal with the problems of people feeling afraid of vaccines and of people feeling afraid of heart attacks without, as one of the very first steps, checking to what extent those feelings are in agreement with reality. The answers will be very different.

        • Eric chirtel says:

          Look up the clip of ron Paul discussing drug legalization on the morton downey jr show (the man who was replaced at his radio station by a young rush Limbaugh incidentally). At the end of the clip ron Paul asks a chubby high schooler who was arguing for strict drug laws why the government doesn’t put him on a diet. There is plenty of material for the next debate in those beautiful 14 minutes!

  2. Vox Imperatoris says:

    These are hilarious and great!

    I never knew Marco Rubio was a JRPG character. But I won’t be concerned until he reveals that his real last name is Ramirez.

  3. Steve Reilly says:

    For Jeb, aren’t you forget that by your assumptions, his brother was also the most qualified man to be prez? Therefore the odds of Barbara being a super-genius go up. Then you throw in the environmental component, which he has locked down, and I’m starting to think he should get my vote.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I guess I’m treating “the most qualified person always becomes President” as a concession to Jeb, ie trying to be as charitable as possible to his case. If we assume the President isn’t always the best candidate, then the odds of the President’s son being the best candidate go down even further.

      • Richard says:

        I don’t think this answers Steve’s comment. If we’re assuming “the most qualified person always becomes president”, then not only do we know H.W. was the most qualified, but we also know W was. If we take it as granted that W was the most qualified, that raises our estimate of how high Barbara’s qualified-ness was, too, making it more likely that Jeb is currently most qualified than our baseline probability for an only child of a president would be.

        On the other side, I take it we can count on Jeb’s endorsement for Chelsea Clinton already?

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Right. What I’m saying is that I didn’t mean to genuinely assume that the most qualified person always becomes President, just grant to Jeb for the sake of argument that his father was truly the most qualified person.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Also, W won two elections to his father’s one. It’s looking like Barbara is the senior partner in that pairing.

      • JB says:

        I think he means, somebody who has a brother who was the most qualified person to become president as well as a father who was the most qualified person to become president, has better odds of being the most qualified person to become president than somebody who merely has a father who was the most qualified person to become president. ie Dubya counts as evidence that Barbara Bush does in fact have presidential-quality genes.

        • Seth says:

          In fact, I vaguely recall one memoir by a Bush 41 administrative participant that for the question “Barbara Bush is an unrecognized political super-genius …” might’ve have honestly answered something like “Yes”. It something to the effect that the guy was more afraid of crossing her in terms of failing at a task, than of her husband. Between the genetic argument above that W won two elections and hence is even better than his father, and if Barbara’s known as a fearsome Presidential-level political operative in her own right, the answer to that question as “Yes” is looking downright plausible.

          Note it’s not a “hardball” question, it’s the softest of softballs, as the “Yes” answer is utterly obvious in rhetorical terms. I mean, you’re literally asking a politician to fulsomely praise his mother.

          • Simon says:

            Well, if she is the political super-genius, that brings some extra weight to her saying in 2013 that “we’ve had enough Bushes”, in response to if Jeb should run.

            It might be that she was holding Chang at the time and could actually see that he would no longer hold it while running.

        • Seth says:

          From a bit of searching:

          “In the thirty-some years I’ve been around American politics, she’s far and away the greatest political spouse I’ve seen,” says political strategist Edward J. Rollins, one of the managers of Ross Perot’s campaign. …

          “People always said Nancy Reagan would kill you if you said bad stuff about her,” says one staff aide who worked closely with the Bushes during his vice presidency. “But I always thought Mrs. Bush was the one who would kill you… . No one sat around and gossiped about Mrs. Bush. I don’t think it was that people loved her; I think everyone was scared of her. It was just like when your mother said, ‘I have eyes in the back of my head.'”

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      If we assume that “Presidential” is at all heritable, then an accusation of “only one of your parents was President” is bizarre† when all the other candidates have zero parents who were President.

      †I’m probably over-thinking a joke.

      • With the thoughts you'd be thinkin says:

        Shouldn’t that make David Eisenhower & Julie Nixon’s kids the most qualified candidates for office?

        • Protagoras says:

          So you’re saying somebody needs to start the draft Jennie Eisenhower movement? I’ve certainly heard worse ideas.

      • DanielLC says:

        The other candidates are drawn from a lager pool, so it’s feasible that they’re candidates because they’re the best possible presidents, but it’s highly unlikely that the best possible president is in the pool of people whose parents were president.

      • jonathan says:

        “If we assume that “Presidential” is at all heritable, then an accusation of “only one of your parents was President” is bizarre† when all the other candidates have zero parents who were President.”

        It’s quite plausible to me that both:

        E[ability | parent president] >> E[ability]


        E[ability | parent president, running] < E[ability | running]

        This is because having a president for a parent increases the probability of running for president for reasons other than ability.

  4. Kolya says:

    Great post, but one correction – George H. W. Bush was envoy to China 1974-1975, by which time even the nuttiest John Birchers had realised Chiang was in no position to reconquer China. He was a businessman (though obviously a politically active and informed one) in the 1950s.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks, fixed.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      I wonder what the world would look like today if the U.S. had “unleashed Chiang” and nuked Red China in the Korean War. It was pretty close to happening.

      The answer isn’t “post-apocalyptic wasteland”, either. Even if the Soviet Union had gotten involved, the U.S. had a massive nuclear advantage at that time.

      There was also that time in 1969 when the Soviets asked Nixon if it was cool if they dropped the bomb on China. He said no. Thus America allied with the more hardline communist country against the Soviet deviationists.

      • Protagoras says:

        I doubt that limited nuclear support from the U.S. would have been sufficient for Chiang to reconquer China, and even if the hawks had gotten their way I seriously doubt that a full commitment of everything America could offer to support Chiang was on the table (and for that matter even that might not have been enough). It probably would have meant a unified Korea under the ROK, which would obviously have been an improvement, but otherwise I think the main effect would have been many more deaths in an extended Chinese civil war that wouldn’t have ended up changing very much in China.

      • Tatu Ahponen says:

        “The answer isn’t “post-apocalyptic wasteland”, either.”

        …you mean apart from the nuked areas in China?

      • Harald K says:

        > The answer isn’t “post-apocalyptic wasteland”, either. Even if the Soviet Union had gotten involved, the U.S. had a massive nuclear advantage at that time.

        Even granting that it wouldn’t result in an immediate post-apocalyptic wasteland, have you considered that there might be one of those Schelling points here? i.e. “Let’s not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations who pose no reasonable immediate threat just as an attempt to further our own interests?”.

        I think you must assume at the very least that if the US had been so light on the nuclear trigger then, then India and Pakistan would have used their nukes on each other down the road. The dozens of countries who started nuclear weapons programs under the pretense of civilian nuclear power (including well-known militarist hell holes Switzerland, Finland and Sweden) would probably not have canceled their programs in your alternate nuke-happy universe.

        I’ll never understand this immense capacity for optimism some people have, about all the potential good things that could have happened if we were just willing to kill a couple of hundreds of millions of people.

  5. Kolya says:

    I thought the Ottoman-Fiorina section was going to lead to a proposal to implement the system of the Kafes.

  6. TomA says:

    I assume that your next post is going to be directed at Hillary and Bernie’s political foibles. Or are you just playing one side of the fence?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I looked. They weren’t as weird.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I find that hard to believe.

        Clinton is one of the weirder candidates in recent history and Sanders gave you tulip subsidies.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Having a bad policy idea doesn’t count as “weird”.

          If you think you can do it, go ahead and I’ll link to it.

          • Leit says:

            Oh, come the fuck on.

            Off the top of my head, and going off the tone of exaggeration from your post –

            Given your tendency to store confidential documents on personal servers, would you consider moving all government data to something like Amazon AWS?

            President Obama promised the “most transparent administration in history”, and while the administration’s hostile attitude toward FOIA requests and the fact that this administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous combined would indicate that he’s failed, do you think that perhaps you could make good on his promise by simply making government documents available to everyone instead of just to scriptkiddies and chinese hackers?

          • Lyn Waters says:

            Happy to oblige:


            “A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees. A woman tied up. A woman abused.

            A woman enjoys intercourse with her man—as she fantasizes about being raped by 3 men simultaneously.”

            Feel The Bern is, apparently, a long-lost fetish.


            “Hillary’s friendship as First Lady with former mentor Jean Houston ended after Bob Woodward revealed in a 1996 book that Houston helped Clinton hold imaginary conversations with her hero Eleanor Roosevelt. One of the conversations was taped and her critics called it “Wackygate.””

            Hillary has one incredibly seedy past, but this dips into the crazy without hitting the tinfoil barrier.

          • grendelkhan says:

            Leit, that’s just angry politicking, which makes for bad art. Nowhere near as totally awesome as our host’s Spear of Destiny theory. It’s about as clever as “hey, remember how Dubya lied us into Iraq? given your family’s history of gross mendacity, would you publicly commit to a ‘no backsies’ policy verified by pinky swears with every Supreme Court justice?”, which is to say, not at all.

            Also, did you know that much government data already resides on AWS, and there are provisions for all sorts of sensitive (though not, if I’m reading that right, classified) data residing there?

          • Leit says:


            Fair enough on angry politicking. Others have already pointed out a couple of exploitable weirdnesses, though. There are likely more when one actually does look, and obscurity isn’t really a defense when the post goes on – inspiredly and at great length – about a mystical golden sword.

            This comes off as the author simply not being interested in these sorts of surrealist questions about the “serious” (ooh, scare quotes!) candidates, which leaves the answer of “they weren’t as weird” sounding like an excuse.

            I was aware that some data is stored in AWS, and probably wasn’t clear in that I was advocating for dumping everything there and just making it publicly accessible.

          • Clinton: Back when your husband was governor, you multiplied your investment in cattle futures a hundredfold in less than a year, despite having no expertise in the field and betting, on average, against the way the market was moving.

            If you became president, do you think you could apply the same extraordinary talents on a larger scale to federal assets in order to reduce or eliminate the national debt?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Bernie wrote that stuff over 40 years ago. It’s entirely appropriate for jokes about him, but it has nothing to do with his current policies.

            (This is in no way a endorsement of Bernie, but I’d rather criticize his current policies than weird ideas he had before I was born.)

          • Deiseach says:

            Mr Sanders –

            Do you accept the blame for Jeremy Corbyn and if not, why not?

            I tend to agree, though, that since the Democrat candidates are more or less these two, we are sorely lacking in the “underpants on the head” element. Hillary may or may not be dodgy with regard to some elements of her and Bill’s political career, but she is not weird.

            Uncle Bernie does not seem to have anything particularly shady or loopy in his past, either (at least by standards on this side of the Atlantic). He may be a blazing Socialist in American terms, but he comes off more Lib-Dem to me.

            I certainly haven’t seen anything this time round to match the “Obama is a Lightworker/Indigo Child” fruitcakeness.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ David Friedman
            If you [Hillary]
            became president, do you think you could apply the same extraordinary talents on a larger scale to federal assets in order to reduce or eliminate the national debt?”

            So that’s how they were doing it in the 1990s. A worthwhile question.

          • Julie K says:

            As someone who may become the first female president, you are a role model to countless young women. Would you advise them that picking the right husband may be the most important factor in their career success?

          • anonymous says:

            Like that except, you know, at least a tiny bit funny.

          • Joyously says:

            A. I don’t have any problem with a post being just about the Republicans.

            B. Serious scandals aren’t funny.

            C. I’m sure some amusing hay could be made out of Clinton’s Eleanor Roosevelt conversions and Sander’s hippie leanings. (He recorded a folk album! He’s a terrible singer!)

          • Fifey says:

            Julie’s was pretty great.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            “Would you advise them that picking the right husband may be the most important factor in their career success?”

            In mid-century politics, it was pretty important. That’s the era when success was in the husband’s name; in a Mom and Pop operation, Pop did the glad-handing while Mom was the brains in the back room.

            Not that Bill needs any excusing: good team, good synergy.

        • Julie K says:

          All of the Republican candidates have something weird, but none of the Democratic ones do?
          It sounds similar to the Saturday Night Live writer claiming that there was nothing to caricature about Obama.

          • Tibor says:

            I do not observe the US elections that carefully (I did not even know all of the candidates in the article were REP candidates), but is Rand Paul also not a Republican (slightly libertarian-leaning perhaps) candidate? So then it does not hold that all of those are weird.

            But most importantly – Scott is one of the last people I would suspect of being blue/red partisan, so I doubt this is intentional and one should just take it as it is – a joke – and stop looking for political statements .

            On a side note, I just read recently that one of my favourite films, Daisies (from 1966), is a feminist statement…I guess that if you really look hard for it there, then you find it (but in a surrealist film, you can find pretty much anything you want). But it is better to just enjoy it as a pure art.

            Also, the golden sword story was just brilliant 🙂

          • Nathan says:

            @ Tibor

            I mostly agree with your substantial point (i.e, it’s just a joke guys, chill the frick out), but Scott is very clearly on the Democratic side of politics.

            When Obama was elected, he wrote: “So, my official response is: WHOO! GO OBAMA! HE WILL SOLVE ALL OF OUR PROBLEMS AND EVERYTHING WILL BE GREAT FROM NOW ON! HOPE! CHANGE! YES WE CAN!”

            When the Republican party won big in the 2010 midterms he wrote a long allegory in which “Will” and “Barry” were two really decent guys trying to fix a house while “Red” came along and tore it up because he was insane and looking for gremlins. Link:

            Note that this is all fine. He’s a great writer and a very reasonable guy. He’s intellectually honest and fair-minded. But he’s absolutely a Democratic partisan.

          • Tibor says:

            Nathan: Obama was elected with his “hope and change” slogan in 2008. I held a lot of opinions I would call at least unbalanced or maybe even stupid 7 years ago (when I was 19). Now, Scott is something like 30 now, right? So that is not that much of a difference in this respect.

            I observe that his older posts are much more Democratic partisan than his newer posts, he is definitely more left-leaning than center, but not enough to pick exclusively on the Republican side.

            By the way, I am not “defending him” because I would be left-wing myself. If I lived in the US, I would reluctantly pick Republican if I had to choose between them and Democrats (I would actually vote Libertarian or not at all, depending on the mood as it really does not matter at all if my vote is one in a few millions AND it is a first-past-the-post system). Still, I do not think that Scott is, at least for the most part, particularly partisan in his writings and definitely not to the point where he would pretend that “Democratic candidates are all great and look at those weirdos on the REP side!”. He might enjoy making fun of the Republicans a bit more and so he can be more creative while doing so, but that is about that.

          • Cauê says:

            That Will, Red, Barry and gremlins story eliminated whatever intention I had of going further back into Scott’s archives than I already have…

          • Lyn Waters says:

            To be fair, most of Clinton’s weirdness isn’t really weird, it’s simply criminal and not funny. Pointing these things out; however, is taboo among the blue tribe. For an example, see David’s comment above.

            As for Bernie, aside from being a militant blue-tribe member, that seedy rape fantasy thing is all that I have come across that’s weird. So adopting a politically agnostic position, there isn’t much to go on.

            Of course, adopting a red or grey position yields an almost unlimited selection of weird and outlandish ideas to play with for either candidate, but I take it Scott is making his best attempt at neutrality here.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            “Mr. Sanders, do you intend to apply your creative carpentry skills to the task of rebuilding America’s economy?”

            He did a stint on a kibbutz in Israel, worked as an aide at a psychiatric hospital, taught in a Head Start program, and had a carpentry business with a few other guys in New York. It was called Creative Carpentry, and Rader says that it was accurately named: “They advertised in the Village Voice, but didn’t know much about carpentry. They’d go to the hardware store to buy supplies, and ask the clerk how to do the repairs they’d been hired to do.”

          • Lyn writes:

            “Pointing these things out; however, is taboo among the blue tribe. For an example, see David’s comment above.”

            I’m guessing you are referring to my comment, which was pointing one of “these things” out–the fact that Hilary received a sizable bribe from Perdue Chicken for her husband (I think the only plausible interpretation of the events) disguised as speculative profits.

            In the spirit of the thread, I put it in terms of the implication of that not being true—that Hilary had talents that let her make a hundredfold profit in less than a year in a speculative market in which she had no expertise.

            And, of course, I’m not part of the blue tribe. Insofar as I fit in those categories, it’s as grey tribe. I can never remember voting for a Democrat, occasionally for a Republican, more often for a libertarian or not at all.

            Perhaps you were referring to a different David, or I am misunderstanding your remark? Is what you meant that I was pointing out one of the things that blue tribe people prefer not to know about?

          • Nathan says:

            @ Tibor

            I don’t think we are in meaningful disagreement, just emphasising different points slightly.

          • Lyn Waters says:

            @David Friedman

            “Is what you meant that I was pointing out one of the things that blue tribe people prefer not to know about?”

            Yes. I apologize for the confusion, but that was precisely I intended to convey. Blues, in my experience, have a profoundly serious taboo about discussing any of the various and well reported Clinton scandals as anything other than a vast-right-wing-conspiracy.

          • Nornagest says:

            The “vast right-wing conspiracy” line was about that time when most of the Republicans in Congress lined up to try and kick Bill Clinton out of the White House for playing grab-ass and lying about it. “Conspiracy” is pushing it (all involved were very open about their agenda), but it was right-wing, it was organized, and it was pretty vast. It was also about the most ridiculous stunt I’ve ever seen out of the GOP, at least while I was old enough to more or less understand what I was looking at.

            Technically criminal, sure, but I’ll bet Jimmy Carter had bigger skeletons in his closet than that. Both the Clintons certainly do.

          • Leit says:


            ‘Al Capone’ and ‘tax evasion’ spring immediately to mind.

            The situation isn’t perfectly analogous; still, the idea is to bring ’em down with what will stick. Most people, when asked how short selling works, will return a blank stare. These people aren’t impressed by stories of dodgy trades. But playing on Americans’ latent puritanism and love of naughty, naughty spectacle? Yeah, that’s a sure bet.

            Even getting away with lying about it played into the repubs’ hands come the next election cycle. The truth hurts, but dirt? Dirt clings.

      • Anonymous 8963 says:

        Hillary ‘made’ 10,000 percent returns trading cattle futures over the course of about ten months in 1978.

        And by made, I mean almost certainly was bribed by or part of a money laundering scheme with the help of various folks at Tyson Foods. See this thread for an explanation from some practitioners:

        Specifically look for the posts by FDAX and Bachelier. The NP forum is mostly made up of PhD-having folks involved in the financial markets, and they all agree that Hillary’s story is a load of bullshit.

        And if they’re wrong, and their skepticism is misplaced, and Hilary really did make a killing in cattle futures legitimately, then it’s even more weird/interesting.

        • JBeshir says:

          If you played it straight and looked for implications from being legitimately able to make 10,000 percent returns and interesting questions coming from that it might be funny.

          Allegations of misconduct probably need to be hemispherectomy-weird, stole-the-holy-lance-weird, “no one on any side of politics is or could take this seriously, even as a means of attack” weird, to be funny, though, aside maybe some weird subversion of expectations.

        • stillnotking says:

          Oh, don’t worry, we will be hearing all about Whitewater in the general. I predict at least two books and a half dozen attack ads.

      • squall says:

        you can always go back and read his one about obama

        • Deiseach says:

          Nah, if you really wanted to pattern-match “Obama is a demon/the Anti-Christ”, you should try the American President from R.H. Benson’s Lord of the World; young American politician comes out of seemingly nowhere and begins to be talked about as the one person who can save the tense global situation, based on immense personal charisma which affects everyone who meets him, yet his origins are murky enough that there are contradictory stories about where he comes from and nobody is quite sure what his intentions are.

          Great fit with all that early “Lightworker/Ascended being who has come to save us all and usher in a new era of advanced consciousness/tingles running up my leg/the oceans have stopped rising” tomfoolery that greeted his election first time round.

          He tried to remember what Mr. Varhaus, the American senator, had told him of Felsenburgh; yet it did not seem sufficient to account for the facts. Felsenburgh, it seemed, had employed none of those methods common in modern politics. He controlled no newspapers, vituperated nobody, championed nobody: he had no picked underlings; he used no bribes; there were no monstrous crimes alleged against him. It seemed rather as if his originality lay in his clean hands and his stainless past—that, and his magnetic character. He was the kind of figure that belonged rather to the age of chivalry: a pure, clean, compelling personality, like a radiant child. He had taken people by surprise, then, rising out of the heaving dun-coloured waters of American socialism like a vision — from those waters so fiercely restrained from breaking into storm over since the extraordinary social revolution under Mr. Hearst’s disciples, a century ago. That had been the end of plutocracy; the famous old laws of 1914 had burst some of the stinking bubbles of the time; and the enactments of 1916 and 1917 had prevented their forming again in anything like their previous force. It had been the salvation of America, undoubtedly, even if that salvation were of a dreary and uninspiring description; and now out of the flat socialistic level had arisen this romantic figure utterly unlike any that had preceded it…. So the senator had hinted…. It was too complicated for Percy just now, and he gave it up.

          …The main body of the [biography of Felsenburgh] dealt with his life, or rather with those two or three years known to the world, from his rapid rise in American politics and his mediation in the East down to the event of five months ago, when in swift succession he had been hailed Messiah in Damascus, had been formally adored in London, and finally elected by an extraordinary majority to the Tribuniciate of the two Americas.

          The Pope had read rapidly through these objective facts, for he knew them well enough already, and was now studying with close attention the summary of his character, or rather, as the author rather sententiously explained, the summary of his self-manifestation to the world. He read the description of his two main characteristics, his grasp upon words and facts; “words, the daughters of earth, were wedded in this man to facts, the sons of heaven, and Superman was their offspring.” His minor characteristics, too, were noticed, his appetite for literature, his astonishing memory, his linguistic powers. He possessed, it appeared, both the telescopic and the microscopic eye — he discerned world-wide tendencies and movements on the one hand; he had a passionate capacity for detail on the other. Various anecdotes illustrated these remarks, and a number of terse aphorisms of his were recorded. “No man forgives,” he said; “he only understands.” “It needs supreme faith to renounce a transcendent God.” “A man who believes in himself is almost capable of believing in his neighbour.” Here was a sentence that to the Pope’s mind was significant of that sublime egotism that is alone capable of confronting the Christian spirit: and again, “To forgive a wrong is to condone a crime,” and “The strong man is accessible to no one, but all are accessible to him.”

          There was a certain pompousness in this array of remarks, but it lay, as the Pope saw very well, not in the speaker but in the scribe. To him who had seen the speaker it was plain how they had been uttered — with no pontifical solemnity, but whirled out in a fiery stream of eloquence, or spoken with that strangely moving simplicity that had constituted his first assault on London. It was possible to hate Felsenburgh, and to fear him; but never to be amused at him.

      • keranih says:

        Still having an issue with this. (Yes, yes, “you’re oversensitive, grow up, can’t you take a joke, SIT DOWN, JOHN!“. Heard it. Ignoring it.)

        These were funny. I particularly liked the Lance parable, and look forward to someone expanding this into the Sword of Chang being a cousin of the Sword of Fighting.

        However, I was expecting a less obviously slanted set of mockery, and it left me with a bad taste in my mouth to get to the end and find that the only targets you found to contain weirdness were…on ‘my’ side. (And Rand Paul is the Greyest of the Repubs, to boot.)

        I don’t doubt that you found more easily mockable stuff among the Rs – this fits with what you’ve described of your outlook on life and your social setting. However, to look at the D candidates, go, ‘hmmm, self, not so much weirdness here, is there?’ and then to take that at face value is, well, that’s not doing rationality very well, as I’ve been led to understand.

        If you had said, “I looked, and they didn’t seem as weird to me. I’m still trying to decide if that says more about me, or about them. If anything comes to me, I’ll share it, but no promises.” – if you had said that, then I would have shrugged it off. Scott’s Blue, he looks at Blue candidates and is less inclined to mock them, but hey, he acknowledges the possibility of internal bias. No biggie. Don’t have to agree with the conservative side, it’s a free country, you can say what you like, support who you like. Just…don’t promote *thinking* about things, and then so clearly fail to do so.

        And now I’m third or fourth guessing myself over bringing this up at all, because down this road (of picking at people’s excuses for not agreeing with you) lies madness.

        • anonymous says:

          And now I’m third or fourth guessing myself over bringing this up at all

          Maybe you should have gone for gone for five times.

        • JBeshir says:

          To be fair, there’s some other factors that would predict a slant; the Republican candidates are less “establishment” than the Democrat ones, including some people from outside politics entirely and others from atypical places in politics for presidential candidates, as I understand it.

          That’d lead you to expect them to be more varied in outlook and have more interesting histories, on average.

          Fair enough if you still don’t think you’d expect it.

          • Nathan says:

            That argument only applies to Clinton. Contra Sanders, at least most of the Republican candidates are actual Republicans.

        • Vorkon says:

          I’m with you on this.

          I’ve got no problem whatsoever with Scott writing this post. I’ve also got no problem whatsoever with the fact that it only pokes fun at Republican candidates. In fact, I feel that trying to force the Democratic candidates into the framework of this joke may very well have ruined it, since few things ruin a joke faster than when they feel forced. (Puns notwithstanding, of course. Feeling forced is kinda’ the whole point, there.)

          I am, however, a little disappointed in Scott using the assertion that “they weren’t as weird,” as an excuse for not doing so. Sure, Hillary and Bernie may not have the Sword of Chang hanging on their walls, but do they really have nothing about them which is equally suited to being turned into a goofy, overly meta, SSC-style question as, “they appreciate the Ottoman Empire,” or “they are a good debater?” That seems questionable.

      • Metafilterian says:

        You couldn’t do anything with Hilary’s “Wall Street donates to me because 9/11” gaffe? I find that hard to believe. Pretty sure you’re trolling.

        • tcd says:

          He’s definitely having some fun trolling in the comments. (It is a humor post after all.)

          And look how fast some readers went to quarters…

          • Metafilterian says:

            It’s Scott’s blog, but when did trolling become two out of the trinity of true, necessary and kind? Just curious.

      • Julie K says:

        “Weird” is a red herring, though. The post works because of your creativity more than the candidates’ weirdness. It’s not really weird to be a champion debater, or the son of a former president, or to express admiration for the Ottoman Empire.

        • John Schilling says:

          Historically, it is much weirder to be the wife of a former president than the son of a former president. Particularly among viable presidential candidates.

          • Jiro says:

            “Weird” doesn’t mean “has low probability”, otherwise you could subdivide any non-weird trait into a set of weird ones. “Being a family member of a president isn’t weird, but being a particular type of family member is weird!” isn’t much better than saying “Being human isn’t weird, but being a human with exactly 12,361 hairs on his head is weird!”

      • Rose says:

        To say that Clinton and sanders provide no opportunity for parody is a breath-taking admission of partisanship that sounds like a self-parody. My whole concept of ssc as a place of reasoned attempt not to drink the cool-aid is shaken.

    • brad says:

      It’s funny. Laugh.

    • Cauê says:

      He didn’t even say negative things about them, though… Carson invented the functional hemispherectomy; Fiorina likes the Ottoman Empire; Cruz is a great debater; Bush is the son of a president; Rubio’s career is doing really well recently; Trump likes to put his name on things.

      • Randy M says:

        Yes, I think people who are trying to do something similar with Dems are missing the tone.
        Which isn’t to say that making one side sound ridiculous isn’t effective rhetoric.

      • Urstoff says:

        SSC is subject to the Fairness Doctrine

      • Jiro says:

        I’ll grant you Carson. For the others… Fiorina and Rubio made historically ignorant references and this is something to laugh at them for (using a type of geek humor where Scott pretends the ignorant reference is well-informed and shows how funny that would be). Cruz sounds good but there is nothing good behind his words. Either (conclusion presented as absurd) or Bush would be a much worse president than he thinks he would be. And Scott really wants to call your attention to the fact that Trump likes to put his name on things, which in normal discourse defaults to an accusation of egoism unless it specifically says otherwise.

        Just because Scott did not say “and that’s terrible” and instead implied that in context doesn’t change this.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Rubio didn’t make a historical comment and Scott isn’t making fun of him. It is Jeb who made the comment and the material is all about the Bushes, not Rubio.

        • Vaniver says:

          And Scott really wants to call your attention to the fact that Trump likes to put his name on things, which in normal discourse defaults to an accusation of egoism unless it specifically says otherwise.

          Trump wants to call your attention to the fact that he puts his name on things.

        • wysinwyg says:

          There’s no serious criticism of any candidate in the OP. Your objections have more to do with your biases than Scott’s.

          • Julie K says:

            I don’t object to the OP. I thought it was very funny. I only object to Scott’s claim that there’s nothing funny about the other side.

        • “Fiorina and Rubio made historically ignorant references”

          Actually, I don’t think Fiorina’s was historically ignorant, just conventional–the idea that the early centuries of al-Islam were an impressive civilization. I don’t know what the South American part was about, but I wouldn’t be astonished if the Ottomans traded with that part of the world. And the sword joke didn’t depend on Rubio saying anything historically ignorant, just on fitting together a bunch of different things into an entertaining pattern.

    • James Picone says:

      Were the posts on tulip subsidies and Bernie Sander’s campaign being the only disproportionately white one in the race not sufficiently to your liking?

      Scott posts serious criticism of a Democrat candidate’s signature policy, Scott defends a Republican candidate against a claim made by left-wing people, and none of that counts because Scott writes a silly post making jokes that are barely even at the expense of the candidates they’re about? Like, the Carly Fiorina one is the only one that’s even remotely critical.

      • Anonymous says:

        My impression has always been that Scott is naturally inclined to support the left, knows this, and so goes to extensive efforts to try to correct this by being more suspicious and critical of left-wing arguments than of right-wing ones.

        I remember he said at the end of ‘I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup’ that having just written a big essay criticizing the Blue Tribe for falsely claiming to be self-critical and reflective while really just attacking the Red Tribe, he realized that he was making the same mistake and that this suggested he’s either unusually charitable and honest, or not a member of the Blue Tribe at all. I think his guess of which of those applied was mistaken – he’s too modest.

        • Jay Feldman says:

          Your use of ‘blue tribe’ is too general. Scott was criticizing feminist ideas in particular, a group which is definitely not Scott’s ingroup.

      • Nathan says:

        I don’t imagine anyone would object to serious criticism of a Republican candidates policies. The issue, to the extent that there is an issue, is that Scott (occasionally) acts dismissively or insultingly towards figures or ideas on the right. The impression is often that Scott doesn’t consider them or their ideas worthy of serious consideration. Meanwhile, the claim “Abraham Lincoln was a necromancer” does get serious consideration.

        I don’t want to overstate the problem. Scott’s great and I love his writing, and when he decides to approach an issue he almost always has something worthwhile to say. I personally would just like to see him expand his universe of ideas that are worth serious consideration/criticism a bit (understanding of course that it’s already unusually large).

    • Virbie says:

      > political foibles

      Did we read different posts or do we have vastly different understandings of the words “political” and “foibles”? As far as I’m aware, mythical Nazi lances, existential questions about hemispherectomies, and missed opportunities for naming elements of board games don’t quite fall under politics, even remotely. Hell even one the most relevant to politics (Cruz’s debating skills) is a straight-up compliment that’s mostly only interesting as a thought experiment.

  7. semiautorabbit says:

    I’m very curious if Carson is the kind of guy who would thoughtfully consider the empty hemisphere thing, or waive it away as “pure speculation” or something.

    • RCF says:

      It does seem to me that one hemisphere of a fully grown human has a much stronger claim to being “human” than does the whole brain of a 20 week old fetus, let along a blastocyst.

      • hawkice says:

        Well, one hemisphere of a fully grown human IS considered a human — it’s just the other hemisphere. Or maybe he thinks it’s like kidneys or something that grants personhood, and the brain doesn’t matter? Or, oddly, he could believe personhood is morally defined by fiat (I believe this is what legalism is, generally speaking) — in that case, though, fetuses don’t have birth certificates so I guess they don’t count as people either.

        Irrelevant aside: Legalism is perhaps the ultimate cross-section of beliefs not truly held but that are excellent Schelling points.

        • Evan Þ says:

          “Or maybe he thinks it’s like kidneys or something that grants personhood, and the brain doesn’t matter?”

          The soul. Not the brain; the soul. I’m almost certain that’s what he’d reply. Though, I do wonder how much he’d consider the question before (and after) answering it.

          • Urstoff says:

            At what week of gestation does the pineal gland develop?

          • Irenist says:


            Yeah, Cartesian dualism is silly. Here’s a hylomorphist’s take:

            Someone might claim that split brains and possibility of double transplant support the idea that there were two minds all along. Since most theorists individuate minds by causal connections/psychological unity, there is little reason to claim that there were two minds before the brain was split. But it might be thought that a problem arises when the brain’s hemispheres are split and if this split was maintained so there was no communication between the hemispheres or learning what the other knows. But this isn’t a problem for the hylomorphic account. The hylomorphic view doesn’t identify the soul with the mind or the thinker. The theory is not committed to any psychological unity principle for individuating minds and the persons that posses them. And though the hylomorphic soul is simple, it configures a complex object that could be cut off from itself. In the above scenario, the same soul is configuring two parts of the brain, just as it configures other organs. While hylomorphism is committed to our having rational capacities, it is not committed to our thought being unified. It is the human being that is the thinking subject, not a soul whose contents must be fully accessible and unified. So split brains and mental states
            cut off from each other don’t entail the impossibility of a split hylomorphic soul, and don’t give the hylomorphic thinker any reason to abandon his soul theory. Only a double transplant would create new minds and persons. This is because there would be two living bodies and the hylomorphic soul configures only a single human body.


            Same author, also relevant:

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Irenist:

            Interesting articles!

            I enjoyed reading them, but absolutely nothing in there establishes that Cartesian dualism is silly. I am not exactly a Cartesian dualist, depending on how broadly you extend that term, but I do believe that the mind and the body are distinct entities. (I suppose I could call myself a “Caplanite dualist”.)

            The problem with hylomorphism is that it is completely confused. It’s purpose is not to provide clarity, but to obscure. The closer you look at it, the more unintelligible it gets.

            First of all, just what the hell is a soul? It’s not the mind; it’s not the subject of one’s consciousness. It’s not the body. It is somehow the “form” of the body that “configures” its matter. Yet despite being the “form” of the body, it is not just an abstract principle or another way of considering the body. It is capable of some action independently of the body: “abstract thought” is performed by the soul and not by any “physical organ”.

            Of course, the first objection is just why you would reify the “form” of any entity as having some kind of intrinsic existence apart from its being recognized in a mind. When I see a particular hunk of matter and energy, it appears to me in the form of a red lamp. But to a color-blind person, it may appear in the form of a grey lamp. A particular form is objectively real relative to a certain mode of perception, but what sense does “form” have apart from any mode of perception? Is the matter “in itself” in the form of a red lamp or a grey lamp? Is it a “lamp” at all? (This is the source of the great primary-secondary quality distinction; have fun with that one.)

            But even if you grant that “forms” have their own intrinsic existence apart from being perceived, the soul is certainly not a form in the regular sense. It stretches the term “form” beyond all meaning to call the soul a form. The soul is the manner in which the body’s matter is arranged? That’s pure materialism; it sure isn’t what Catholics mean by it. Aristotle himself did not believe in the immortality of the soul: when the entity’s matter ceases to be arranged that way, it no longer has a soul. What would an immaterial soul, i.e. an immaterial form, i.e. an immaterial arrangement of matter even be?

            So there is no immortal soul, except for the “active intellect”—the joy of the scholastics—and no one has any idea what the hell that means. It certainly doesn’t fit in with the rest of the theory. Is it even part of the soul? Who the hell knows? The one thing you can say for the active intellect is that it probably saved Aristotelianism from being totally suppressed by the Church.

            Enough of that digression. So Hershenov wants to use this crazy, convoluted theory to explain why there are no separate entities of “human body” and “human mind”, but only a unified “human being”.

            He goes through an enormous amount of hair-splitting to establish that the human being is definitely alive, but only contingently alive. We are definitely animals but only contingently animals. Our mental traits are the really important ones; we could lose all the bodily traits we have and still retain our identities. Why not then just say that the human person is a separate entity from the body, which is something that a person has; in other words, that we are minds with bodies? Because he knows in advance what the conclusion has to be, and that this would be haram.

            To this end, he raises various silly objections against “neo-Lockeans”, some of which apply quite well to the silly views some neo-Lockeans hold. For example, he objects that if the “human animal” and the “human person” both think, this creates a “problem of too many minds”. I agree.

            But those who say that the mind is a separate entity from the body do not have this problem. Animals, in the sense of living bodies, do not think, i.e. are not conscious. Minds think. Animal brains may calculate and react to stimuli, but they do not experience. A dog feels pain when you kick it only insofar as it may be a mind that has a body, and the two causally interact.

            Moreover, I disagree with the neo-Lockeans that the continuity of conscious experience is what matters. What matters is that the experiences are had by the same subject, i.e. the same mental entity.

            In any case, Hershenov wants to say that, even when we split the brain in half and create two separate “streams” of consciousness, they are still being somehow “configured” by the same soul. One stream of consciousness can theoretically be experiencing unimaginable suffering, while the other is in perfect bliss. What good is my soul, then, as such? Why do I want to save it? What I want to save is my mind; I want to continue being the subject of happy conscious experience.

            Unfortunately, he slides right over the question of just how a new soul is created when you split the brain and put each half in a new body. And that’s really the more thought-provoking question.

            What do I think happens to split-brain patients? I don’t pretend to know. Maybe one hemisphere is dominant and continues to be the person, while a new person is created from the other hemisphere. Maybe the person is killed and two new persons are created. All I can say is that I wouldn’t want it done to me.

            I will say that it really frustrates me to read obviously theologically-motivated non-materialist theories of mind. First of all, they are very convoluted because they find it necessary to conform to millennia of dogma and tradition. But more importantly, they tarnish the reputation of dualism and add to the “scientific” veneer of materialism. (Especially when they are not even associated with “natural religion” like deism but with a dogmatic, patently historical religion like Christianity.) Materialism itself is the epitome of a priori “Cartesian” rationalizing: explaining away the plain evidence of experience because it doesn’t fit the theory. But when compared to Catholicism, it looks pretty good.

            It’s like fascists ranting about the evils of communism. They make communism seem better by comparison.

          • Irenist says:

            @ Vox Imperatoris:
            Glad you liked the articles. I think Cartesian dualism is silly because of the interaction problem; the articles weren’t really about that. AFAICT and IIRC, Caplan’s dualism avoids that problem, although it’s hard for me to tell if Caplan is advancing a dual aspect theory (most likely AFAICT), or a supervenience theory, or even something like panpsychism.

            The problem with hylomorphism is that it is completely confused. It’s purpose is not to provide clarity, but to obscure. The closer you look at it, the more unintelligible it gets.

            Do you seriously think Aristotle just sat around trying to think of ways to obscure the mind-body relationship? That seems like a silly ad hominem to me. Either hylomorphism is true or it’s not. Whiggish accusations of priestcraft are beside the point.

            First of all, just what the hell is a soul? It’s not the mind; it’s not the subject of one’s consciousness. It’s not the body. It is somehow the “form” of the body that “configures” its matter. Yet despite being the “form” of the body, it is not just an abstract principle or another way of considering the body. It is capable of some action independently of the body: “abstract thought” is performed by the soul and not by any “physical organ”.

            As you suggest, the hylomorphist understands the soul as the formal cause of the body.

            Of course, the first objection is just why you would reify the “form” of any entity as having some kind of intrinsic existence apart from its being recognized in a mind.

            Whether reification is occurring is precisely the question. No need to beg it.

            The soul is the manner in which the body’s matter is arranged?

            Not exactly. It’s an entelechy: the formal cause tends toward the final.

            Look, every time I try to discuss this stuff in SSC threads it ends up being a novella’s worth of pages and nobody seems to get much clarity out of it. So, pardon the Courtier’s Reply, but my answer at this point is just to read Feser’s “Scholastic Metaphysics” and Oderberg’s “Real Essentialism.” They cover everything I would say better than I would, and at what is apparently the minimum length for clear exposition.

            In any case, Hershenov wants to say that, even when we split the brain in half and create two separate “streams” of consciousness, they are still being somehow “configured” by the same soul.

            Yeah. He rambles (as you pointed out), but that’s his key point.

            One stream of consciousness can theoretically be experiencing unimaginable suffering, while the other is in perfect bliss. What good is my soul, then, as such? Why do I want to save it? What I want to save is my mind; I want to continue being the subject of happy conscious experience.

            The human mind is the soul expressing itself through the body. Aquinas describes the existence of the discarnate soul in Heaven before the Last Judgment and the General Resurrection as rather attenuated. So it’s a fair point.

            Unfortunately, he slides right over the question of just how a new soul is created when you split the brain and put each half in a new body. And that’s really the more thought-provoking question.

            Yeah. I was disappointed there, too. The usual explanation is that a rational soul is a product of special Divine creation, though, so there’s not much for him to say about it other than “I bet God would create a second soul there.”

            What do I think happens to split-brain patients? I don’t pretend to know. Maybe one hemisphere is dominant and continues to be the person, while a new person is created from the other hemisphere. Maybe the person is killed and two new persons are created. All I can say is that I wouldn’t want it done to me.

            That last is certainly the most important takeaway for me, too.

            I will say that it really frustrates me to read obviously theologically-motivated non-materialist theories of mind. First of all, they are very convoluted because they find it necessary to conform to millennia of dogma and tradition. But more importantly, they tarnish the reputation of dualism and add to the “scientific” veneer of materialism. (Especially when they are not even associated with “natural religion” like deism but with a dogmatic, patently historical religion like Christianity.) Materialism itself is the epitome of a priori “Cartesian” rationalizing: explaining away the plain evidence of experience because it doesn’t fit the theory. But when compared to Catholicism, it looks pretty good. It’s like fascists ranting about the evils of communism. They make communism seem better by comparison.

            Aristotle’s motivation for hylomorphism wasn’t Christian piety. I happen to be Catholic, but I honestly think the theory would be interesting even if Christianity were false. Frankly, I think Cartesian dualism (with its “ghost in the machine”) has done far more to tarnish the reputation of dualism than even the silliest of the Schoolmen. But YMMV. That’s fine.

        • thisguy says:

          Legalism as in the ideology of pre-Confucian Dynastic China? Why go to a foreign history for belief Schelling points, we could just as easily grab some arbitrary Ancient Grecian ideology for similar effect.

          • Vaniver says:

            Legalism as in the ideology of pre-Confucian Dynastic China?

            Legalism postdates Confucianism, but I don’t think that’s what hawkice is describing. (I think they’re referring to something like “personhood is determined by the legal code” rather than “personhood is determined by moral status,” i.e. when someone is granted a birth certificate is when they achieve legal protections, and those are the only relevant ones.)

          • Susebron says:

            Legalism actually predates Confucianism as the main philosophy of Dynastic China. They both originated during the Warring States period, but the Qin Dynasty was Legalist. The Confucian Han Dynasty came after the Qin.

      • Vorkon says:

        I’m not sure if this is really relevant. If I’m not mistaken, then Carson, like most pro-lifers, believes in making allowances for abortions in cases where the life of the mother is threatened. Even if the severed hemisphere does retain some sort of consciousness, or could be considered a person of its own by some other metric, it seems to me that cutting it off would be roughly analogous to killing a fetus to save the mother.

        Such a position would also be consistent with his stance on gun control; If he believes in the right of one person to kill another in self-defense, then he should also believe in the right of one hemisphere to do the same to another.

        (A case could definitely be made that it is more akin to torture than killing, of course, but even then, if I’m going to have to be tortured, being rendered unable to feel pain first strikes me as preferable to any other method.)

        All bets are off if he’s one of those crazies who isn’t willing to make an exception if the life of the mother is on the line, of course, but those are very few and far between.

        • John says:

          I would much, much, much rather be killed quickly and cleanly than spend 70+ years fully conscious but locked away from any and all sensory input. Grown men go insane after a few years of solitary confinement, and this would be orders of magnitude worse.

          • Justin says:

            Solitary confinement and sensory deprivation are completely different experiences though. People pay good money for much milder forms of sensory deprivation, and experience exciting out-of-body experiences etc. Maybe it’s just like an unending dream, which isn’t really that bad.

          • Vorkon says:

            Oh, certainly, I would rather be killed quickly, too. I think most people probably would. But I was comparing 70+ years of being locked away from all sensory input with 70+ years of constant physical torture, which I think most people would admit is far worse than a quick death OR the sensory deprivation. And if they wouldn’t admit that, well then, let’s see what they say after about a half hour of said torture…

            We also haven’t established if there is really any difference between death and complete sensory deprivation. If you believe in an immortal soul, (like Carson) this is certainly a valid concern, worthy of consideration, and even if you don’t it’s an interesting question.

            And besides, all of this is predicated on the idea of severing the hemisphere creating a second consciousness actually being true. I’m not going to repeat it all here, but there’s a thread started by ilkarnal a bit further down which points out that this is very, very questionable. I was just trying to point out that, even if you assume that the severed hemisphere does deserve to be treated as a separate person in its own right, this does not necessarily conflict with Carson’s position on the personhood of a fetus.

            Now, could Carson still brush it off as “pure speculation,” as the OP suggests? He certainly could, and I’m not sure he would be wrong to do so. I’m just saying that he wouldn’t need to do so, in order to hold a coherent position.

          • Nornagest says:

            People pay good money for much milder forms of sensory deprivation…

            Various militaries and intelligence organizations also use much milder forms of sensory deprivation as torture. It seems to be one of those hormesis things, where a little is beneficial but a lot is deeply unpleasant.

            That being said, I have no idea how a brain or a hemisphere would respond to complete isolation. An fMRI would be handy.

        • DanielLC says:

          Removing the hemisphere would be analogous to killing the fetus. Disconnecting it would be analogous to waiting until she gives birth, then locking the baby up in solitary confinement for the rest of his/her life.

          • Vorkon says:

            Well, in that case his position is ALSO in line with the standard Republican position on the War on Drugs! HEYO! :op

            (P.S. Yes, I know that Carson, like Paul, is one of the Republican candidates that actually has a problem with this. Don’t make me ruin a perfectly good joke, dammit! :op )

        • Anonymous says:

          I think it could be argued that you’re killing/torturing/whatever not somebody else, but yourself – if you’re old enough to consent to the operation, at least.

    • Selerax says:

      If you have any kind of interest in these questions, or neuroscience in general, do yourself a favour and check out Mike Gazzaniga’s recently-published memoir “Tales from both sides of the brain”. It should still be available in all good bookstores and libraries (including academic ones).

      Awesome story of a great scientist discovering a fascinating new field of research (split-brain patients, in which the hemispheres are split from each other rather than totally isolated from the body as in Carson’s procedure), and building a fantastic career on it.

      On top of that, because it’s a memoir, you get a ton of little anecdotes (Richard Feynman makes an appearance) and a pretty close look at what it means to be a working (extremely successful) scientist.

      More generally, anything by Mike Gazzaniga is highly receommended (“Who’s in charge?”, etc.)

    • JBeshir says:

      It would be interesting to know, although a formal political debate is probably a poor venue for finding out, because the stakes involved push even people who would otherwise be thoughtful to spin.

      Also the answers are mostly for the audience rather than the asker, and are sharply time limited and don’t afford much time to think, which probably precludes a detailed answer.

    • stillnotking says:

      I’m betting he would say that a person can’t have more than one soul, and since the active hemisphere clearly has one, the inert hemisphere doesn’t.

    • Jaskologist says:

      He’s a highly successful neurosurgeon who pioneered a new kind of brain surgery, and you think he’s not the type to thoughtfully consider things?

      • anonymous says:

        Surgeons are the jocks of the doctor world, and neurosurgeons are among the jock-iest of the surgeons. They don’t think, they don’t consider, they don’t research, they cut. And if that doesn’t work they cut some more.

      • Ineptech says:

        “I wonder if the pioneering surgery I helped to develop in order to heal sick children might actually have been a horrible mistake that caused untold suffering?” is not a run-of-the-mill bit of introspection. I’m not sure the most thoughtful person in the world could evaluate something like that fairly, let alone a guy who doesn’t believe in evolution.

  8. Douglas Knight says:

    A couple of corrections:
    Carson didn’t revive the functional hemispherectomy; he revived hemispherectomies in general by inventing the functional form (where “functional” means “functions as, but isn’t really”). Everything else is correct, indeed explaining that very history, except that first sentence.

    The father of George W Bush has two middle initials: George H W Bush (mentioned 3 times, in 2 paragraphs). He is named after his grandfather, George Herbert Walker, who, presumably, is named after George Herbert.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks, fixed.

    • g says:

      The city near which I live has a George Street and a Herbert Street parallel to one another. I know of no concrete reason to think it isn’t coincidence, although since they run between Milton Road (not named after John Milton) and Chesterton Road (not named after G K Chesterton) and it’s a city full of intellectuals I wouldn’t be surprised if it were deliberate.

      Is there any particular reason to think George Herbert Walker was named in memory of George Herbert rather than e.g. having one older family member called George and one called Herbert? (According to Wikipedia he had a grandfather called George.)

    • TheNybbler says:

      Carson didn’t invent the functional hemispherectomy either; that was Rasmussen.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Maybe I was wrong to say that he “invented” it, but he is given a lot of credit because he developed and promoted it. I think that surgeons are not enthusiastic about invention because they believe that development is so important. But for that reason I should not have used the word.

  9. Peter Scott says:

    If anybody else is intrigued by the question to Ms. Fiorina, you might enjoy the draft of David Friedman’s Legal Systems Very Different From Ours, in particular the chapters on Islamic law and polylegal systems — though the whole thing is pretty eye-opening if you haven’t thought seriously about where laws come from.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I was looking for more on millets! I should have known David Friedman would already have written a book on it.

      • My draft chapter on Islamic law discusses the Ottomans as evidence that the breakdown of the traditional system was due not to western colonialism (more or less Hallaq’s thesis) but to the rise of the nation state, with the Ottoman Empire as the prime example.

        I think I was originally pointed at the millet system by my friend and colleague Gordon Tullock, who you would have liked. I considered including it in the book I’m now working on but didn’t.

      • Outis says:

        Was the millet system really an Ottoman invention? I seem to remember that the Romans had non-citizens judged according to the laws of their nation. This actually comes up in the New Testament: Jesus, as a Jew, is judged by the Sanhedrin. Later on, Peter is crucified, but Paul, who is a Roman citizen, is beheaded instead. And I distinctly remember reading about Celts or Germans being judged according to their laws, too.

        So the question is whether anything like that was still in effect in Byzantium when the Turks conquered it, or if it may have influenced them through some other route. The Ottoman empire did act as a sort of successor state to Byzantium, and inherited many things from it. Even the crescent and start, which are now the most recognizable Islamic symbol, were originally a symbol of Costantinople!

        • Tibor says:

          The late Eastern Roman Empire had a so called theme system.

          By the way I’ve never really grokked the popularity of the misleading term “Byzantine Empire”…it would be like calling the US “New Amsterdam federation” or something (I do know that NY is not the capital, but Washington does not have an older name, so NY maps onto Constantinople better).

          • Anonymous says:

            That analogy is poor.

            Calling the Byzantine Empire the “Eastern Roman Empire” is like calling the United Canadian and American States the “United States of America”. The Byzantine Empire is the eastern half of the former Roman Empire, after they lost the west – their capital is elsewhere, their system of government is different, their primary ethnicity is different. It stands to reason that they be considered a successor state rather than the same one.

          • Vorkon says:

            The Shadowrun analogy doesn’t really work here, because the citizens of the UCAS call it the UCAS, themselves. The argument here is that what we call the Byzantine Empire never called itself the Byzantine Empire, so the fact that we do so is a little silly. A better example would be the Enclave from Fallout calling itself the United States of America, which it does.

            That said, while I can’t say why we changed it, exactly, there is a very good reason we call it Byzantium: People Just Liked it Better That Way. :op

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            The Roman empire didn’t lose the west, they were split in two in the third century. The Eastern Roman Empire existed, under than name, for close to 200 years before the western empire fell.

          • whoever says:

            >(I do know that NY is not the capital, but Washington does not have an older name, so NY maps onto Constantinople better).

            NY was in fact the capital at one point.

        • jonathan says:

          “This actually comes up in the New Testament: Jesus, as a Jew, is judged by the Sanhedrin. Later on, Peter is crucified, but Paul, who is a Roman citizen, is beheaded instead.”

          The Sanhedrin tried Jesus, but they couldn’t sentence him to death, because they didn’t have this authority under Roman Law. If they had, they would have had him stoned, not crucified, which was a Roman punishment for the lower classes. This is why they brought him to Pontius Pilate to be executed.

          Crucifixion vs. beheading was a class thing. Generally higher classes were subject to beheading, which was considered a cleaner and more honorable death than crucifixion, which was for common criminals and considered very degrading and humiliating. In later times, hanging replaced crucifixion, probably because of the latter’s association with Jesus.

  10. John Sidles says:

    A hardball question for Rand Paul (or any candidate in any party):  By what signs can voters recognize “banal evil” in campaign rhetoric?


    This question was inspired by Scott A’s recent hardball question:

    Scott Alexander asks (Oct. 23, 2015) “Any citation for [the claim that H*tler] had the same levels of Jewish support as the average German politician, that would be really interesting if true and maybe make me rethink some things.”

    If we confine our attention to mathematicians, considerable evidence of substantial Jewish embrace of (or at least optimistic toleration for) right-wing German nationalism can be found in two recent histories: Mathematicians under the Nazis (2014) and Mathematicians Fleeing from Nazi Germany: Individual Fates and Global Impact (2009).

    What began in the 1920s with optimistic toleration of nationalist rhetoric had progressed by 1934 to:

    Karl Menger to Oswald Veblen
    Oct. 27, 2934

    What I could not write you from Vienna is a description of the situation there […] First of all the situation at the university is as unpleasant as possible. Whereas I still don’t believe that Austria has more than 75% Nazis, the percentage at the universities is certainly 75%, and among the mathematicians I have to do with, except of course some pupils of mine, not far from 100%.

    Segal’s chapter “Personal Histories” is particularly instructive regarding the tragic consequences of human cognition that is rationally developed, economically actionable, empathically impaired, and ideologically passionate.

    As AMS reviewer Jochen Brüning commented:

    To me at least, the most fascinating aspect of Segal’s work is that it gives another, very detailed, illustration of what has been called the “banality of evil”, i.e., the apparent impossibility of deducing the unimaginable atrocities of the N*zis merely from the criminal energy of individuals.

    It seems that very common weaknesses and vices may add up to monstrous deeds if only the “right conditions” are given — a rather disquieting thought.

    Disquieting indeed … which is why a related hardball question is this one: What is the moral obligation (if any) of election-seeking politicians to help ensure that the “right conditions” — for banal evil to grow to profound evil — are not given?

    Isn’t that a threat greatly to be feared … that local profound evil unleashes and excuses global banal evil … thus initiating an unvirtuous circle of evil?

    Title = {Mathematicians under the Nazis},
    Author = {Segal, S.L.}, Year = {2014},
    Publisher = {Princeton University Press}}

    Title = {Mathematicians Fleeing from Nazi
    Germany: Individual Fates and Global Impact},
    Author = {Siegmund-Schultze, R.}, Year = {2009},
    Publisher = {Princeton University Press}}

    • RCF says:

      “he unimaginable atrocities of the N*zis”

      Is the word “Nazi” like “Voldemort”?

    • Nornagest says:

      A hardball question for Rand Paul (or any candidate in any party): By what signs can voters recognize “banal evil” in campaign rhetoric?

      The answer, from any candidate of any party, is likely to be too politicized to be interesting.

      • John Sidles says:

        One politician at least answered hardball questions with further hardball questions:

        “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?”

        To which doubled-down hardball question, that politician provided not an answer, but a hope.

        Shall we regard our our own era’s divisive demagoguery, variegated economic doctrines, and appeals to American exceptionalism, with any less skeptical regard, than Lincoln’s skeptical regard for religious faith? And among present-era politicians, who has shown the wisdom to reply to hardball questions with actionably empathic hopes? Oy.

        • Kiya says:

          Is my answer to the blockquoted question supposed to be “Yeah, that does seem pretty in-character, with some Exodus-like elements. Let us hope, if you are correct about his involvement, that he gets uninvolved soon”?

          *googles* Wait, it is?

          Now I want to vote for Lincoln…

          • anonymous says:

            The war was all but won at that point, and it was starting to become time to consider whether all that bloodshed had been worth it. Although Lincoln had not gotten into the war to free the slaves, by the end of the war that’s what he was hanging his hat on to justify it.

        • John Sidles says:

          anonymous asserts  “Although Lincoln had not gotten into the war to free the slaves, by the end of the war that’s what he was hanging his hat on to justify it.”

          SSC readers whose reading of US history aligns with anonymous’ reading will enjoy (or at least learn from) Ted Chiang’s sympathetic deconstruction of adaptive historical cognition (including Lincoln’s):

          A lot of the history that we were taught, in elementary school, was distorted to paint a prettier picture, and make us feel better about ourselves.

          In the same way, that nations have myths about how they came to be founded, I would suggest that people have myths about how they came to be the way they are now. We study historical documents in an effort to dig beneath the myths, and find out what really happened in the past, and most of us think that it is important to engage in that type of examination, because we think there is value in knowing the truth, even when it is unflattering.

          So once you start keeping a video lifelog, you will have the ultimate form of documentation for your personal history, and then the question becomes, how much value is there in knowing the truth about yourself?

          One of the reasons given, for studying history, is that whenever a nation lies to itself, about what it did in the past, it commits and injustice against certain groups of people. So is the same true of individuals? When you lie to yourself, about what you did in the past, are you hurting anyone?

          Another reason, that is often given, for studying history is to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Would knowing more about the mistakes you’ve made in the past make you less likely to repeat those mistakes in the future?

          Technology will eventually provide us with a titanic amount of information about ourselves, including our mistakes. That is something I am confident of. Whether or not we will be able to make good use of that information, whether or not we will be able to derive wisdom from it, that is something that remains to be seen.

          There is plenty in Ted Chiang’s lecture — which deconstructs in-depth the themes of Chiang’s own story “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” (2013) — to help illuminate the reflective cognition of SSC readers and political candidates alike.

          That is why I (for one) follow jeorgun (below) in recommending political candidates who will “UNLEASH (TED) CHIANG”! 😉

          • anonymous says:

            I never understood why anyone would think a video of a guy talking at you for 70 minutes is an efficient way to make an argument or pass on information.

            The didactic youtube video is pernicious. There’s a reason civilization took off after writing was invented.

          • John Sidles says:

            Lol … some folks are well-worth watching for an hour …

            “You always have to defend the imagination against idiots.”
              — Ursula LeGuin

            And yet, other folks aren’t worth watching for thirty seconds.

            How to tell which is which? Well, that’s the real trick, isn’t it?

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m with anonymous – video talks set my teeth on edge, if there isn’t a transcript I find myself fast-forwarding through the jokey bits, folksy bits and showing off to sift out the information (“I don’t goddamn care about that little coffee shop where you had the most amazing cup of joe in your entire life and it inspired you to write this piece of software, what syntax do I use in the demons-blasted search function????”)

          • I’ve long thought that it would be interesting if I could view a complete memory of my past, reevaluating my behavior and views on the basis of present knowledge. It looks as though we are moving towards a world where the equivalent is doable, at least if you have the right NSA contacts.

          • @Anonymous:

            The puzzle, which has interested me for a long time, is why the mass lecture, a speaker with an audience too big for significant interaction, survived the invention of the printing press.

            Yet it did.

          • John Sidles, the first link is excellent.

          • Not Robin Hanson says:


            The puzzle, which has interested me for a long time, is why the mass lecture, a speaker with an audience too big for significant interaction, survived the invention of the printing press.

            Yet it did.

            Perhaps mass lectures aren’t about their factual content?

          • John Sidles says:

            Yes, mass lectures (especially political ones) commonly are not about factual content.

          • Nornagest says:

            The puzzle, which has interested me for a long time, is why the mass lecture, a speaker with an audience too big for significant interaction, survived the invention of the printing press.

            Yet it did.

            Some people find it easier to digest speech than text. I’m not one of them — if I get linked to a narrated video on YouTube that’s more than five minutes long, I usually won’t watch it (though I’ll probably look for a transcript). But the form wouldn’t have survived, even into massively parallel formats like you find in Coursera, if it didn’t work for some people.

            There’s also a group-signaling aspect, of course. And probably a cult-of-personality aspect too; it’s harder to get your personality across through text than it is if your audience can hear your voice and see your face, and I can see there being some extra motivation to learn if your audience likes what they see. But even without that going on, I’m inclined to believe those who say they understand the lecture format better.

          • John Sidles says:

            Certainly at the highest levels, mathematical discourse is most commonly an intensely social face-to-face activity. Of course, this may be partly because “the book hasn’t been written yet” … literally!

            Shinichi Mochizuki’s (claimed) abc proof is an exception that demonstrates the rule; the proof was conceived largely in solitude (very atypically) and so the mathematical community has organized an intensely social face-to-face workshop to (re)weave the fabric of shared understanding.

            Bill Thurston’s “On proof and progress in mathematics” (cited by 549 subsequent articles) is perhaps the most celebrated essay upon the social aspects of mathematical understanding.

          • The lectures I was thinking of were standard college courses, not political speeches.

          • Chalid says:

            An underappreciated benefit of the college mass lecture is that it trains the important skill of being able to listen to and understand long discussions or talks, especially ones that you aren’t necessarily that interested in. Very important both in academia and in the corporate world.

          • Thecommexokid says:

            I for one am primarily an auditory, rather than visual, learner. I have a Master’s degree in physics that I obtained by attending my (often large and non-participatory) classes and absolutely could not have obtained by just reading the textbooks instead. There are plenty of people who just learn better through the ears than through the eyes.

          • Linch says:

            “An underappreciated benefit of the college mass lecture is that it trains the important skill of being able to listen to and understand long discussions or talks, especially ones that you aren’t necessarily that interested in.”

            I didn’t even go to the type of university with large lecture halls, but college has managed to train me very well to get very sleepy whenever the same person talks at me for more than five minutes straight. This is somewhat suboptimal in the workplace.

          • John Sidles says:

            Yes, the intense social practice of mathematics can be as physiologically addictive as any drug … Michael Harris’ recent :Mathematics Without Apologies (2015) further explores the (many) respects in which the practice of mathematics is (or at least, can be) much more than a rational search for truth … this broad cognitive span is why Harris’ book is an excellent holiday-season gift for the rationalists and humanists in your family.

  11. Richard says:

    This was brilliant and hilarious, thanks. The Sword of Chang thing is more compelling than I could’ve imagined.

    Could anyone explain the follow-up question to Carson? I’m afraid I’m not familiar enough with Kabbalah to understand what the kabbalistic implications would be.

    • David says:

      You don’t really have to be. The hemispheres of the brain correspond to American political parties. That’s what I assume the joke is, anyway.

    • brad says:

      In kabbalah everything is a code with secret secondary meanings. So if the bible says God created the waters in kabbalah they take the Hebrew letters for created and waters, convert them into numbers, add them together, subtract 13 because why not, convert the resulting sum back to letters and conclude that God really was creating the menorah. But not just the actual menorah but also what the menorah stands for which you can figure out by …

      It can go on like that for hours.

      But like David says you don’t need much to understand that sentence, just substitute metaphorical:
      “You solve paediatric epilepsy by severing all connections between right and left, declaring one unhealthy and leaving it to rot, and turning complete control over to the other. Given that you’re trying to become President, that has obvious kabbalisticmetaphorical implications.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I’m using “kabbalistic” because of the idea of real world events being metaphors for other real world events. That’s something I haven’t seen in any other system. For example, there were seven kings of Edom because there are seven lower sephirot, but there were also actually seven kings of Edom who did normal king stuff and went down in history books, it was just that God planned things out so that it would also satisfy the metaphorical correspondence.

        • Jaskologist says:

          That’s actually got a very long history in Christianity (see typology). One of the more common ones still in use is to see the Passover lamb as foreshadowing Jesus’s sacrifice, but they can get much, much more complicated than that.

          They didn’t come up with it either; Philo of Alexandria did the same thing (not with Jesus, of course), and my understanding is that the general method of interpretation he used was taken from the broader Hellenic culture.

          • Brad (the other one) says:

            I would generally say that the basic methodology at play here is the idea of looking at history as though history (and thus contemporary events) were a literary work, and then looking for literary themes within said historical events.

            This makes more sense if A: you assume history has an author (i.e. you’re a theist) and B: you reject “death of the author” / “the audience determines the theme!” type thinking.

    • geist says:

      That ok. It seems Scott isn’t either.

  12. Anthony says:

    I felt certain that the Rubio question was going to end by asking if he would be willing to give up the sword at the end of his second term, thus guaranteeing his swift downfall, but maintaining the sword-founded power of the United States.

    • Anthony says:

      Me, too.

    • Paul says:

      The real question is, can we trust any President to wield a sword of power created and guided by a malevolent will?

      • Nornagest says:

        My first impulse is to run away screaming, but my second is to notice that any modern President is effectively wielding several swords like that.

        • Susebron says:

          The fact that Rubio is apparently using his magic sword to seek personal power is troubling, though. If Jeb Bush had the strength of will to hand it off to Rubio, Bush is probably the better candidate.

          • John Schilling says:

            Hmm, Bilbo Baggins is very thoroughly retired and I don’t trust Faramir’s threat-assessment skills.

            Galadriel/Elrond 2016?

  13. ilkarnal says:

    Aren’t there some important brain doohickeys that keep us conscious and aware and stuff? Presumably the surgery disconnects one hemisphere from said doohickeys and not the other – if so, it’s in a coma, not awake and screaming into the void.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes, Rob just linked me to Elissa pointing out the same thing on Facebook, and it seems likely right.

      But if I were Trump giving a rebuttal to that answer of Carson’s, I would point out that the brain has weird plasticity – eg if the right brain is expecting a signal from the language center in the left brain, but the left brain doesn’t provide, the right brain will just develop its own language center, or figure out how to get language some other way.

      I doubt plasticity could replace an entire reticular activating system, though.

      • Setsize says:

        I brought up the reticular activating system the previous two times this came up, but I’m too slow to comment. 😛

    • Julie K says:

      Have they tried scanning the brain post-surgery to see how much activity there is in the disconnected half?

    • Alrenous says:

      Does damage to the activating system reliably result in a coma?

      Do coma patients with activating system damage sometimes wake up regardless?

      • Setsize says:

        Complete surgical severing of the RAS reliably produces a coma (in cats; this has not been tried on humans for obvious reasons.)

        Incomplete damage to the RAS can produce intermediate disturbances of consciousness (narcolepsy and such.) Here’s a case report of someone recovering from lower grade damage to RAS:

        I don’t currently have enough journal access to pull up the full text of the case studies but almost certainly there would have been EEG recordings before and after a hemispherectomy.

  14. Jacobian says:

    Dr. Carson, why do you have a painting of yourself with YMCA sauna Klingon Jesus?

    Also, a Rubio-Cruz ticket is basically a physically empowered strong AI that believes in a George Soros – UN global conspiracy to abolish golf

  15. Jiro says:

    so my question for you is: do you think Barbara Bush is an unrecognized political super-genius, or are there probably hundreds of thousands of Americans who would make a better president than you would

    You don’t need to ask Bush that question. The last time you were hired for a job–whatever that job was–it is very unlikely that you were the best out of all the people in the country. It’s unlikely that you were even the best out of all the applicants. So you can ask yourself the same question.

    Bush isn’t here to answer the question. But you’re here and you can answer it. So how about it?

    Also, a version of this was brought up in an earlier thread.

    • Luke Somers says:

      I totally buy that I was not the best out of all the people in the country, but I really, really don’t think I wasn’t the best out of all the applicants – I’ve heard descriptions of their applications.

  16. Tracy W says:

    You have just drastically altered upwards my priors on reports of the US elections being of any personal interest. This is extremely annoying and arguments for why I should return to my original prior will be much appreciated.

    In other words, great writing.

    • JBeshir says:

      “It’s extremely unlikely that any questions like these will actually be asked.” is probably the main one.

    • Matt C says:

      Reference class error. Adjust your reference classes a bit and you can keep your original prior for “reports of the US elections from the usual, non SSC sources”.

    • Tracy W says:

      JBeshir, Matt C, my problem is that Scott has not merely written extremely well about a fundamentally boring topic, but has also convinced me that some American presidential candidates are inherently bizarre and thus perhaps useful fodder for other writers.

    • Thecommexokid says:

      Just see the Ted Cruz section above. What’s more likely: that the US elections might actually be of any personal interest to you, or that Scott is such a good writer that he can convince you of virtually any proposition, even obviously false ones?

  17. While your question about the implications of the millet system for our society is an interesting one, I don’t think it is fair to claim that Fiorina regarded the Ottoman Empire as “the greatest civilization in the world.” It’s pretty clear from the link that she was referring to Islamic civilization more generally, including at least the Abbasids, very likely both Umayyad dynasties, possibly the Fatimids, possibly some others.

    If you want a response on the millet question, Newt Gingrich would be more likely to provide it. He was a historian and seems to have a wide and entertaining range of interests.

    So far as Jeb Bush, shouldn’t you include environmental influences and after the fact evidence of his abilities? If you limit yourself to a priori genetic qualifications, surely his, however weak, are stronger than those of anyone else currently in the race.

    It takes a candidate to beat a candidate.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Compare the following logic: “Sure, the son of the lottery commissioner won the lottery, but who cares? Somebody had to win it, and he’s no less likely than anyone else.”

      I’m not saying that Jeb is less likely to be the best candidate than the average person, I’m saying it would be an astounding coincidence that the best candidate was also the person who was selected by a seemingly different trait.

      Like, if Ben Carson was the best candidate, that wouldn’t be a surprise, because apparently the best candidate was born in a Detroit slum and then gradually rose to the top on the basis of his skills. For the best candidate to happen to be the son of the last guy is a coincidence requiring explanation.

      • Unlikely if “best candidate” means “person in the world best qualified for the job.” Not so unlikely if it means “best of those running with some significant chance of winning.”

      • Arthur B. says:

        To be explicit: being a coincidence is not enough. You need to have a prior that being the son of a president might make you more likely to win the election even if you aren’t the most skilled. It’s a perfectly reasonable prior of course, but it is required for the argument to work.

      • thisguy says:

        But what if the “best candidate” were really defined by their network of people they know, and not by any real personal qualities. It seems plausible that the “most qualified candidate’s” network would be advantageous for his son.

      • Brian says:

        Yeah, a combination of nature and nurture is sufficient to explain this one. I mean, is it any more unlikely that two sons of a top NFL quarterback (Archie Manning) would become two great NFL quarterbacks as well (Peyton and Eli Manning)? And in that case, it’s not subjective; both sons have the records and Super Bowl championships to prove it.

        • My father’s example, in our field, consisted of three father/son pairs:

          James Mill/John Stuart Mill
          John Bates Clark/John Maurice Clark
          John Neville Keynes/John Maynard Keynes

          Clear evidence that the essential requirement was for both first names to start with J.

        • Urstoff says:

          Let’s not get carried away with calling Eli a “great NFL quarterback”

      • Sebastian H says:

        Or wife?

  18. RCF says:

    I find the Jeb Bush stuff rather fallacious. We shouldn’t be comparing the “Jeb Bush is most qualified” hypothesis to the “Someone other than Jeb Bush is the most qualified”, we should be comparing the “Jeb Bush is most qualified” hypothesis to the “Person X is the most qualified” hypothesis, for a particular X. For instance, Donald Trump has no presidents in his immediate family tree, so as unlikely it is that Jeb Bush would be most qualified, it would be even more unlikely that Donald Trump would be most qualified. It would be rather silly to object to Donald Trump’s candidacy by saying “The probability that any particular American would be most qualified is one in 300 million, so given that there is a 0.9999999967% chance that you are not most qualified, why should we vote for you?” This seems like a version of the Gambler’s Fallacy to me. And/or the opposite of privileging the hypothesis?

    As to Ted Cruz, if it is possible to rank how convincing arguments arguments, shouldn’t being at the top of the list still be evidence? Also, given that some people are not convinced by Ted Cruz’s arguments, isn’t finding an argument convincing still evidence (and if you object by saying that there are people who do find all of Cruz’s arguments convincing, so those people should ignore his arguments: there being some people who agree with Cruz and some who disagree with him is hardly something that demands meta-level conclusions. If there are people who agree with Cruz, it could just be that they share many basic principles with him.)

    • Randy M says:

      Right? The chance that the son of a prior president would happen to be better for the job than all other 300 million people may be slim due to the effect of large numbers of small chances beating a single slightly larger chance, but when compared with ten or so others it is pretty good evidence.

      Given the assumptions made, I hasten to add.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      The other candidates have been through intense selection processes.

      In Jeb’s case, those processes selected someone who had *already* been brought to our attention. This is highly suspicious. The likely hypotheses are that either the process was flawed or that presidentiality is inherited.

      • RCF says:

        The selection processes are hardly optimized for presidentiality. I mean, sure, Ben Carson is a quite exceptional person, but his exception is in neurosurgery, not politics.

    • wysinwyg says:

      As to Ted Cruz, if it is possible to rank how convincing arguments arguments, shouldn’t being at the top of the list still be evidence?

      Put evidence at the top of the list of convincing arguments, and Cruz will convince* you that the theoretical framework through which you’d usually interpret the evidence is incorrect and provide you with a better** framework, from which the interpretation of evidence will lead you to conclude that Cruz is correct.

      And yes, you do need that theoretical framework. By Cartesian dualism, you can only be certain of the brute facts of your sensory experience — but still not certain about their cause or meaning (you can be sure you see the color red, but you can’t be sure why). To draw any conclusions from your brute experience, you need some kind of theoretical framework. But you can only base that framework on information gleaned from your sense experience, which doesn’t tell you anything for certain.

      If Cruz can convince* you to alter the framework you use to interpret sense experience, then he can convince you of anything.

      *I mean, not rationally. He’ll subtly influence your outlook by saying just the right thing to make you question those principles he wants you to drop, and reinforce those principles he wants you to keep.

      **From Cruz’s point of view.

      • Urstoff says:

        Philosophical nitpick: that’s not Cartesian dualism (which is metaphysics, not epistemology), that’s radical empiricism. Descartes said that we can be certain about some facts (e.g., about physical objects) because God wouldn’t make a world where we weren’t right about such basic facts. It’s not until Hume that you get an embrace of the skepticism: all we can know for certain is our present experience.

        • wysinwyg says:

          A worthwhile nitpick. I meant to say “Cartesian skepticism”, not “dualism” — so apologies for that.

          Descartes said that we can be certain about some facts (e.g., about physical objects) because God wouldn’t make a world where we weren’t right about such basic facts.

          I think the malevolent demon thought experiment is spot on, but the follow-on arguments are bullshit. So I give him credit for the thought experiment and call it “Cartesian skepticism”, but don’t feel obliged to take that packaged with the arguments I don’t feel are as useful.

  19. MawBTS says:

    I lol’d.

    Can you do the Democrats next?

  20. SextimusSeverus says:

    The millet system is really great if you don’t know anything about it.”Christians … generally kept their own people in line.” indeed!! In practice that meant that all christian nationalities were ruled by Istanbul Greeks called Phanariots after the a quarter of Istanbul in which the Greek patriarch resided. Having two foreign thedes, Turks and Greeks to extract rent from you, with no incentive to leave anything for the other, is kind of shitty.

    At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Phanariot policy was applied to all parts or the Balkans except Serbia. The Bulgarians and Roumanians resisted in vain, and the Greek language steadily made its way. An example may illustrate the oppression. Bulgarian priest was ordered by a Greek bishop to carry away horse-dung from the episcopal stable. He refused, and was punished by a beating from the bishop’s deacons, whereupon he fled to the kadi. When the deacons arrived in pursuit, they found him a full-blown Mussulman under the kadi’s protection.

    Polycentric law for the win XD

    Phanariots crushed all autonomous churches in order to maximize rent,imposing Greek on the congregations.

    In 1767 the Byzantine Patriarch Samuel succeeded in abolishing the see of Ochrida. A year before, he had obtained the abolition of that of Ipek. The Serbians were at last subject to that religious oppression which had threatened them after the Turkish conquest, and had been mercifully averted by the Serbian Grand Vizier in 1557. The Serbian resistance was an obstinate but hopeless one. All the Serbian bishops were deposed, and many of the lower clergy expelled from their livings. The vacant places were quite openly put up to the highest bidder, with the proviso that the buyer must speak Greek. Ecclesiastical corruption was followed as a matter of course by fiscal oppression.

    For thirty years the patriot Serbian regarded his bishops and his clergy as foreign blood-suckers and libertines, as Greeks hired by Turks to oppress and enslave the Slav.

    As Balkan countries gained independence each one (including Greece) expelled Phanariots and other agents of the Patriarchy, consigning them to be remembered only in such sayings as “greedy as a Greek bishop” (Bosnia) and “stealing as in the days of Caragea” (Romania).

  21. I don’t quite get the Mr. Bush one. Did bush imply he was a superior candidate ? Maybe early on the media presumed he was, not not anymore now that he’s pretty much faded. I don’t see Jeb Bush as having a superiority complex, but maybe he does.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Running for President strongly implies that you think you’re the best candidate for President.

      • Michael Watts says:

        This is definitely wrong. It implies that you think the world would be a better place, for you, if you were president.

        • Banananon says:

          As a reductionist tautology, this is not nearly tautological enough. Rather one should say that running for president implies that you think the world would be a better place, for you, if you were a presidential candidate. See for example the claims that Ben Carson is running for book sales and Martin O’Malley is running for the VP position.

          • RCF says:

            That depends on whether one considers “running for office” to refer to trying to get elected, or simply giving the appearance of doing so. There’s a SMBC comic positing that as people realize that as campaigns become dominated people motivated by the benefits of being in a race, rather than actually winning, candidates will begin to compete to be least electable.

        • RCF says:

          If “implies” refers to its performance meaning, that is true, but if “implies” refers to what follows from its truth meaning, then it is not.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Not really. I don’t think this is the case at all, actually.

        It implies that you think you’d be better than the other people who are being seriously considered for that office. It’s perfectly possible that Jeb Bush thinks John Q. Public is the best man for the job, but that Mr. Public doesn’t want to do it or isn’t charismatic enough to appeal to voters.

        Also, there’s path dependency. Maybe a lot of physicists would make good presidents, genetically speaking. But once you start down that path, perhaps you don’t learn the skills you need to be a good president. So, at age 3, one man may be better qualified to be president than another. Yet one the better-qualified one becomes a scientist while the lesser-qualified one becomes a military officer or something. The officer may learn skills that make him, after the fact, better for the job.

        Finally, there’s Schelling points, or “man in the right place at the right time” effects. Perhaps Jeb Bush knows there’s 500 other people more qualified than he is, intrinsically, to be president. But Jeb already has a recognized name, public visibility, and donor base. Even if he picked one of those 500, stepped down in his favor, and endorsed him, not all of that would transfer over. And that’s even if he had no self-interested desire to be president at all.

        This logic also works for supporters who are not Jeb Bush himself and don’t have a personal stake in the outcome. They think, “Hmm, I could support this random guy who I think is slightly better than Jeb Bush, or I could jump on the Jeb Bush bandwagon.” The very existence of the bandwagon is a reason for Jeb Bush to keep running rather than endorsing some unknown person, even if he thinks that person will do a better job. He can say, “I’d rather have myself win than have a better-qualified Republican lose.”

        It seems astonishingly arrogant for anyone to say that he is absolutely the best possible (living) candidate for the job of president. I really doubt they would say so if you pressed them (except Trump perhaps), and if I’m being charitable they don’t even think so.

        • Jiro says:

          Vox: I think Scott’s post was in that weird state between a criticism and a joke, where if nobody rebuts it it’s a criticism, but since you managed to rebut it it doesn’t matter because it was just a joke.

          Seriously, I expected better from Scott, and that was without the “oh, I can’t think of anything funny to say about Democrats” added. Scott’s been doing so well about not being tribal that when he is tribal, it’s jarring.

          • Technically Not Anonymous says:

            No post containing these two sentences could not be intended as a joke.

            “Assume that fitness-to-be-President is a normally distributed trait with known heritability. Suppose also that past elections have 100% efficiency; that is, they always choose the most qualified candidate.”

            Also, it’s tagged “humor.”

          • LCL says:

            You guys are way too sensitive. This is one of the lightest possible touches of politics and you’re still offended. If this is over the line, anything remotely about politics is over the line. Which would be a shame.

          • anonymous says:

            They are like the guys who take a dive in soccer or basketball. It is just working the ref.

            You see this same kind of dumb shit after ever post where Scott doesn’t kiss up to the far right. And every time they “expected better”. You’d think at some point they’d change their expectations. Or at least quit bitching.

            Then the same people ridicule so-called victim culture …

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ LCL:

            I think the oversensitivity is a little silly, myself. I’m not demanding “equal time” in mockery of presidential candidates.

            Obviously, I recognized that this whole post is a joke. But Scott’s comment (the one I responded to), at least seemed like it could have been meant seriously.

          • Nornagest says:

            I could probably think of something funny to say about Sanders, but Clinton is just fundamentally unfunny. At least Trump is entertainingly bombastic about his ambition.

      • ChristianKl says:

        It just means that you think you are better than the person who would have been picked if you wouldn’t be running.

  22. onyomi says:

    Reading about the style of debate Cruz participated in greatly lowers my opinion of debate as a competitive skill (at least that kind): it seems to, in fact, be intentional cultivation of a dark art: to practice being super convincing on any given side of a topic, whether or not you know anything about it. Isn’t that kind of an evil mental habit to cultivate?

    Not saying it’s bad to cultivate the skills of public speaking, rhetoric, thinking on your feet, etc., but is “the art of being convincing” as divorced from any content really a good thing to cultivate?

    • Daniel Harris says:

      As a passionate debater, i have found it an invaluable skill to avoid confirmation bias. One of the easiest ways to test out an idea is to think of a counterfactual, and being able to debate any issue means you’re really good at coming up with counterfactuals.

      People trained in debate have no special access to knowledge, but we are really, really good at looking at things from multiple angles, and seeing if we’ve missed something in our initial analysis. We realise that truth is slippery and complicated, so when we’re absolutely convinced we’re right, we could be wrong.

      Not always, of course, Some of the biggest, egotistical, self-righteous jerks are into debate. They see it as an ability to control others. And an ability to convince others can also lead to an ability to persuade yourself that the wrong decision is actually the right one (it’s why smarter people suffer more from cognitive bias).

      But, when you consciously practise metacognition, debate is an invaluable skill.

      • onyomi says:

        Hmm… that is a good point. My concern was that it would create the mental habit of being able to find crazy but persuasive trains of though to support any position, even in the absence of any evidence, which sounds bad, but which may actually not be very different from “steelmanning,” as people call it around here. That is, to whatever extent you are training a “dark art,” by learning how to sound convincing, maybe it is more than made up for by the practice in “trying on” different points of view.

        If Ted Cruz is the best debater, then, that means he either has the best personality, or is the best at trying on any point of view. The former is clearly not true, so maybe he’s actually a great rationalist and we should all listen to him more.

      • Harald K says:

        being able to debate any issue means you’re really good at coming up with counterfactuals.

        Such as “everything might have turned out great if we had only nuked China when we could”?

      • Maware says:

        This is school debate though, which has little to anything to do with this. It’s more like min-maxing points gained by using every bizarre trick in the book. Like fast talking, to the point of incomprehensibility. You fast talk so that the other side simply can’t refute so many points. It’s nothing to do with real thinking, but using rhetorical tricks to shift the debate back to the things you want to talk about, right or wrong.

        And you’re being scored on this. I really wouldn’t trust an intercollegiate debater

    • Urstoff says:

      Indeed, it always seemed like sophistry to me. Better to learn and practice philosophy (of course, I would say that).

    • Quixote says:

      Arguments that people come up with to justify a side ‘sound’ different than arguments that naturally point to a best position. If you are assigned a side arbitrarily and come up with arguments for it as best you can in a competitive setting your brain eventually learns ‘features’ of these kinds of arguments.
      The ability to go trough life with a much better trained and calibrated bullshit detector is a pretty good return on the time spent debating. You also wind up being good at public speaking which is not a skill that’s without value.

    • Jaskologist says:

      On the contrary, this is exactly what we should look for in a leader. Notice how on most issues, we always seem to end up with two opposing sides? It seems that the odds of our leader picking the “best” position are no better than a coin toss.

      But the other job of a leader is to lead, and here his persuasive skills would be vital. At last, we can leave bitter partisanship behind as President Cruz’s debate skills bring us all over to his side.

      Indeed, from a utilitarian perspective, you are obligated to vote for Cruz. The most moral thing to do is to fulfill the most preferences for the most people. It turns out that the easiest way to do that is to change people’s preferences to match whatever you were already going to do, which also gets rid of the nasty problem of many people’s preferences being incompatible.

      Vote Cruz. He’s so convincing he just got me to argue myself into voting for him.

    • Psmith says:

      “is “the art of being convincing” as divorced from any content really a good thing to cultivate?”

      It certainly teaches you not to take ideas seriously, and I think this is a very valuable skill indeed. (#postratonalism?)

    • Esquire says:

      I actually quit debate (at which I was fairly good at a national level but far from #1) because I thought it was damaging my ability to discover / care about the truth.

    • Arbitrary Greay says:

      Former debater here: yep, I find that particular style to be much less useful/educating than the traditional CX/LD formats. Even the Student Congress style includes tactical deployment of motions and votes and whatnot. Got a sinking feeling in my stomach when the chosen description in that article was basically “CX except you remove the need for evidence.” I felt outright rage at the story of Cruz winning a round on rhetoric alone, on a content-less flow.

      All of the benefits Daniel Harris lists can be found in the other formats, and imho more rigorously.

  23. Sniffnoy says:

    The one problem with the Holy Lance idea seems to be that the US was not an unstoppable superpower during the Bush administration. Do we actually know that he ever possessed the Sword of Chang? Perhaps George Sr. gave it directly to Jeb? It’s commonly said that he favored Jeb over George Jr., after all.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Maybe it only grants military victory, not successful nation-building attempts.

      Or maybe Dubya gave it to Jeb after he won the election but before 9/11.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Ooh, or maybe George Jr. stole it! As in, George Sr. passed it on to Jeb, intending for him to be president, but George Jr. stole it and used it to become president himself. Realizing his father would get suspicious about this, he then returned it to Jeb, causing 9/11 and etc.

      • Michael Watts says:

        But 9/11 was one of the best things that could have happened to W. Did you see what happened to his approval ratings?

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Here’s another alternative explanation — I still haven’t seen any reference to George W. Bush ever holding the Sword of Chang, so I suspect Jeb got it directly from George Sr. Above I suggested George Jr. may have temporarily stolen it; here’s another idea.

        What if the Lance’s power isn’t limited just to the person who holds it? We’ve actually already implicitly assumed this above — most of the victories attributed to the Lance are not personal victories, but victories of a military one is leading. Similarly the assumption that George W. Bush holding the lance ought to have prevented 9/11. So we might say, the Lance grants victory to those who wield it… but if its wielder leads some organization, such as a country, its power applies to that organization as a whole.

        Edit: Oh, actually, you said this more explicitly, how did I miss this:

        Obviously the Lance is a significant strategic asset for America, and I imagine if you were President then its aura of victory would apply to the country as well, much as the Habsburgs’ possession of the lance enlarged Austria-Hungary.

        Then the election of George W. Bush might be explained not by his own personal possession of the Lance, but by the Lance being held by his father — the leader of the Bush family. Of course, since George Sr. was no longer president, the Lance’s power would no longer protect the United States, only the Bush family; hence it can’t prevent 9/11, but it can make sure George Jr. benefits from it.

        And then, of course, George Sr. gave Jeb the Lance sometime before Jeb gave it to Marco Rubio. But that part of the story is the same regardless.

    • jtgw says:

      The other problem with the Lance theory is, obviously, that it doesn’t explain why the Nazis lost when they were still in possession of it and had it to hand it over to their pal Prescott for safe keeping.

      • Oscar_Cunningham says:

        Well Prescott took it for himself and at that point it stopped working for the Nazis and probably started helping the USA.

  24. Daniel Harris says:

    I’m not fully convinced by the Cruz argument. I mean, I disagree with intelligent people on many topics, but if you asked me, “Who would you rather have in charge to implement their policies, someone who agrees with you on positions but for bad reasons, or someone who you disagree with but who has good reasons for their disagreement,” I’ll choose the latter every time. Assuming the superintelligent computer is debating with facts and not misleading me, I think their opinion would be the better one, even though I would also think the same thing about the opposing position if it had randomly selected that instead.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The distinction is that the superintelligence doesn’t have good reasons for its disagreement, it’s able to make up good reasons for its disagreement. Its actual reason is that it picked that position out of a hat.

      If you’d be willing to be governed by a superintelligence that picks positions out of a hat, you should also be okay with being governed by the village idiot picking positions out of a hat, since they’ll both have the same positions on everything.

      • Daniel Harris says:

        Perhaps, but then I feel that it’s no longer a useful analogy. If it could make up fake reasons that I can’t see as false, then it is removed from anything comparable to Cruz (since fact checkers exist and succeed against him when he’s wrong).

        Let me use an example. If the question is, “Is the sky blue?” Someone could look up and say, “Yes,” and point. That’s a stupid person. A smart person could say either, “No, because the sky is different colours depending on where the sun is. At sunset, the sky is red. At night, the sky is black. The atmosphere refracts light in such a way that, yes, from a certain position of the sun, blue light scatters across the atmosphere, but move the sun and the colour changes completely,” or, “Yes, for at night, the sky is not black–we are just seeing space through it. That’s like saying an orange is black because the lights are off, or green because you’re shining a green light on it. When lit in normal conditions, the sky is blue.”

        I would trust either of those people on science policy over the person who simply points. They each understand the complexities of the situation and the limits of their answer.

        I feel that, if the superintelligence is able to convince anyone of any position, it would do so using the way I answered the “is the sky blue?” question: by defining its terms and acknowledging the complexity.

        I mean, if the question phrased to it is, “Should all people die?” and both the village idiot and the superintelligent computer picked yes, the village idiot would just say, “kill everyone,” while I assume that the superintelligent computer would answer would be something along the lines of, “Yes, because death is a part of the cycle of evolution so future generations can become a better fit for the challenges they face.” That’s a true answer, and while it’s the same position as the village idiot, it’s not a reprehensible one like the village idiot.

        Implimentation of policy relies on the details. That’s why I would trust the superintelligent computer on “should all people die?” and not the village idiot.

        That said, if we’re taking this completely out of the realm of reality, we could say the supercomputer could pick yes to “should all living organisms be killed this second and no life ever come back to the universe?” but I feel that that is so far removed from our current reality that I don’t think it’s at all fair to compare it to Cruz.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          David Benatar has already convinced like a quarter of the people I know of that last one, and he isn’t superintelligent or a debating champ.

          • Buck says:

            Hey Scott, what is your subjective probability that if you knew more about the current state of the world, you’d say that the world was net negative value in expectation in the future? How about that the world is net negative value in expectation right now?

          • Setsize says:

            Not Scott, but I’m not sure that universal utility has a meaningful zero.

        • Jeremy says:

          I would rather be governed by someone who says “we shouldn’t assassinate [the opposition] because it’s a free country, man”

          Than by someone who says “we should assassinate [the opposition] because … [insert debate team answer here]”

          I don’t care how clever their argument is, I still do not want to be ruled by that person.

          I disagree with characterizing it as “someone who you disagree with but who has good reasons for their disagreement”. The whole point of a debate team is that the individual has a skill in convincing people of some proposition they were randomly assigned. If you are only good at convincing people of things which you have good reason to believe, then you are a bad debater.

          • Bugmaster says:

            But what if the pro-assassination guy offers incredibly convincing arguments for his position ? In that case, there’s a good chance that you were wrong; assassination is (sometimes) a good thing; and therefore you should want to be ruled by that guy.

          • Aegeus says:

            To be fair, though, debate questions are chosen so that both sides have their pros and cons, to avoid stacking the deck against one team. Debate teams typically face questions like “Should schools make their students wear uniforms?” rather than “Should we assassinate politicians we don’t like?”

            So you can’t just write something off as a “debate-team answer” – the answers a debate team gives are likely going to have logical justification, support from reliable sources, expert opinions, and other things that could honestly convince someone of the truth of a proposition in a non-dark-arts way.

            Indeed, if you could reliably identify what a “debate-team answer” looked like and ignore it, they would be useless for arguments, so debate teams wouldn’t use them!

            EDIT: Scott’s article on one-sided tradeoffs seems like a good article to link here. Debate-team debates are usually not one-sided.

        • JBeshir says:

          I think it makes sense to treat “can produce complicated inside-view-persuasive arguments” as a sign of intelligence, and to favour people producing more inside-view-persuasive answers over people who produce less inside-view-persuasive answers as leaders, if that’s the only information you have. Even if you know the positions were pulled out of a hat.

          What you actually want a leader to do, though, is filter for good ideas. The universe does not care if you can come up with a clever argument for why your idea works- it only cares whether it does or doesn’t. You can come up with sophisticated arguments for ideas regardless of whether they work, but then “you can’t go to the moon that way”.

          Demonstrating general intelligence through showing ability to craft rhetoric is some evidence of an ability to filter for good ideas. But there’s better sources of evidence, like being able to credibly demonstrate that you have successfully filtered for good ideas in the past.

          If it is known that you can produce inside-view-persuasive arguments for your ideas in the past being shown to be good ones regardless of whether they were, due to the outside view, these arguments should be ignored, and so you can no longer credibly demonstrate such through your arguments. The only remaining evidence from your speech is that you probably have high general intelligence.

          I think this makes sense and justifies the precommit-to-ignoring thing, once you’ve already factored in them probably being smart.

          In the particular case of the super-intelligence and the hat, you also have other evidence- knowing they’re pulling positions out of a hat- which quite solidly tells you they aren’t filtering for good ideas at all, overwhelming the evidence from them having high general intelligence.

          But you probably don’t need to know that to decide that putting them in charge just because they’re intelligent could be a shockingly bad idea.

        • I don’t think anyone has pointed out that there would be advantages to having a president capable of convincing anyone of anything, since he could apply that talent to convincing foreign rulers to do what he wanted. A useful, if dangerous, talent.

          • Walter says:

            All Hail President Hypnotoad!

          • Deiseach says:

            I thought the way political power was structured in the USA that the President does need to be able to persuade the opposition party and/or bolshie members of his own party in Congress of the worth, good sense and value of proposed policies?

          • Nornagest says:

            @Deiseach: Yes. The President does not have the power to implement lasting policy changes on his own; he has the power to reject others’ policies and to bang on the table louder than anyone else.

            That said, America is so partisan right now that on any issue that’s remotely tainted with color politics, the president’s party can generally be trusted to line up behind his policies even if he’d botched a sacrifice to the Devil the day after his election and now has the seven-horned head of a goat that speaks only blasphemy. And the opposition party can be trusted to line up against, of course.

          • Luke Somers says:

            Obama would really have liked that degree of cooperation on the ACA…

      • Julie K says:

        Cruz is clearly not in the same class as the superintelligence, since he is not able to convince the whole country to agree with him.

        Also, I suspect that his supporters mostly agreed with his positions and became his supporters for that reason, rather than being converted by him away from some totally different viewpoint.

      • stillnotking says:

        Doesn’t seem likely that a true superintelligence would faithfully choose a random position and argue it for no reason at all. Perhaps it set the whole thing up in order to make a point, or it wants to know how you’ll react in order to simulate you, or it has already tiled the universe and is presenting you with abstruse logic problems because it believes they satisfy an important part of your utility function, or its actual plan would be incomprehensible and its motives unfathomable even after a thousand years of reflection, etc.

        I realize the assumption of honesty is part of the conceit of the problem, but it’s kinda dangerous, too.

      • Jaskologist says:

        You would be willing to be governed by the superintelligence that picks positions out of hat. It would be sure to convince you of that.

        • Mark Z. says:

          On the other hand, I’ll bet a key part of its strategy is to disguise itself so it doesn’t get recognized as the superintelligence that picks its positions out of a hat.

          This seems related to the subplot in Ender’s Game where Peter and Valentine take over the world with blogging–they create two pseudonyms with approximately right-wing and left-wing politics and set them against each other. It’s kind of the nondeterministic version of randomly choosing a side, and once they’ve built up a following they can create a controversy around a topic, and then have one of them make inferior arguments in order to swing public opinion the other way. Of course it only works if nobody knows the two pseudonyms are coordinated.

      • Leonard says:

        It’s not the positions that make the difference. It’s the convincing. The village idiot commands no consensus. The AI does. I personally would be happier once I am convinced that policy P1 is much better than P2. I’d also be happier because there would be no social strife over it, because everyone else would think that P1 was better too.

        • JBeshir says:

          If it is picking *all* policies out of a hat, not just picking a side on true binary (no third way) decisions which currently have exactly equal support for and against, then you’re going to run into the problem that the vast bulk of possible ideas are truly, obviously awful, and we’re just not looking at them because no one is proposing them. You probably don’t live long in that scenario.

          Even if you limit it to totally convincing you of a randomly selected existing side rather than *any* policy, but allow it to do so on non-binary matters or where there’s not equal support, I think it’d probably be severely damaging. I think that the functioning of a modern democracy can be roughly described as, all the sides focus on different concerns, people move between sides based on which concerns they think need more attention, and society adopts policies which have more pressure for than against, on a policy-by-policy basis.

          I think this leads to a tendency to pick up workable ideas and skip over really awful ones- or at least roll them back after people shift what concerns they think are most important in response (the emergence of neoliberalism would be an example of such a rolling back).

          Replacing this process with random picking plus superintelligent persuasion throws out that whole process in favour of declaring random policies or a random side the winner for a given society. I think that society would end up dysfunctional pretty fast.

      • Anthony says:

        If you’d be willing to be governed by a superintelligence that picks positions out of a hat, you should also be okay with being governed by the village idiot picking positions out of a hat, since they’ll both have the same positions on everything.

        Or rather, you should be okay with being governed by the village idiot picking positions out of a hat and his retinue of Very Intelligent Advisers making up good reasons for the village idiot’s positions.

        Which hasn’t been a noticeable failure when it’s been tried.

  25. Jeremy says:

    By the same analysis you applied to Bush, you could argue it’s astronomically unlikely that the richest man in the world is the son of the previous richest man in the world.

    If anything, this analysis demonstrates that presidentiality probably is not inherited in the gene sense, but in the money/status sense.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think you’re confusing is and ought. I’m sure it’s more likely that the son of a president becomes president. I’m not sure it’s more likely that he deserves it.

      Yes, he gets great education, but so do all the other really rich people. Maybe his father teaches him important lessons about presidential politics at the dinner table each night, and those make him a strong leader? But that effect should be quantifiable, and then we can plug it into the same equations we plugged genetic heritability into.

      • Jeremy says:

        I’m saying that wealth is inherited in a SUM (parent1, parent2) manner rather than a GENETIC_RECOMBINATION(parent1, parent2) manner.

        Of course, we’re all being facetious here, right? I mean one of the premises of your argument was that H W being president implies he was approximately the best man for the job. I was just making the same assumption for the implied traits of Jeb (high chance of election due to inherited wealth/power/status),

        If we really want to recognize the reality that being good at being elected does not mean you are good at being president (at least in the highest ends of the distribution), then we have to recognize that NOBODY on the stage is likely the best person to be president. If we wanted to continue this joust, however, I would suggest that we could calculate whether or not to vote for Jeb based on whether we think electability is more or less inheritable than good governance.

        • Alraune says:

          being good at being elected does not mean you are good at being president, at least in the highest ends of the distribution

          Therefore, we should support Jeb because he sucks at campaigning?

          • I have a vague memory of a story somewhere with two politicians in one party, one of them very good at getting elected, the other very good at being president. The first, recognizing the situation, runs for president with the second as his VP, wins, then fakes some sort of medical difficulty giving him an excuse to resign.

          • Urstoff says:

            The ruse of William Henry Harrison

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        On a somewhat similar note to something I said in another reply to one of your comments, consider the fact that his very wealth, social status, and political dynasty are assets that make him a better candidate for president than someone who could do the job better but won’t win the race.

        Or consider Queen Elizabeth. Need she believe that, of all the people in Britain, she has the most intrinsic queenly ability? Clearly not. I have nothing against Queen Elizabeth, but plenty of upper-class girls could have done just as well in the job (though we may say plenty more would have done worse). But giving the queenship to some random person is not a realistic option. To accept (or have accepted) the office, she only has to think that she would be a better monarch than the person who would get the job if she refused.

        Does this logic have the potential for self-serving bias? Obviously. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be true.

  26. PDV says:

    Fun fact: Barbara Bush actually is somewhat plausibly a president-being genius. She’s widely considered to have been the major force behind the early political careers of both her sons, and a significant contributing factor to the strategic planning of her husband’s career as well.

    • Paul says:

      This raises an interesting question, then. How much of the course of American political history since the 1970s has actually been following the grand design of Barbara Bush?

  27. suntzuanime says:

    Funny stuff, but it’s kind of enraging to hear smart and decent people uncritically praising the Ottoman Empire, even in service of a joke.

  28. Elyffon says:

    Scott, let me start by saying that you have written several of the best essays I have ever read. Your mind is one of the living treasures of humanity. Your blog is a gem in the wastepile of the internet. And I say that as a person who agrees with your conclusions about 20% of the time.

    I don’t read your blog for the conclusions; it’s your arguments, and particularly your train of thought, that are of great value to me. Over the 30 years since I held pretty much all the positions you now do, I have migrated–forced from that idealistic home base by slow, generally painful realizations about reality–to a very different perspective. Maybe I have become More Wrong. But where I am now, I still need competent competitive argument to improve and grow in knowledge and wisdom. Perhaps I speak for a lot of long-time lurkers here when I say that your brilliance illuminates nuances and arguments I had not considered, and need to take into account to see more clearly. At your best, you educate me in the ways only a skilled opponent can.

    And reliably, to your credit, you show an almost unique commitment to intellectual honesty. In this, I consider myself your ally. It is a trait of the intellectually honest that they will benefit from association no matter how much they may disagree, and perhaps even precisely to the extent that they disagree. So your oasis of intellectual honesty satisfies the thirst of all who may pass by.

    This post though…I thought at first might be a guest post by someone doing a poor imitation of your style. It did start with an excellent point that you have raised before about functional hemispherectomies, one that has haunted me since you pointed it out. I *do* think there is a high likelihood that the disconnected hemisphere remains conscious and lives a long parallel life of tormented madness. I would like to see Dr. Carson answer this question. And honestly, to me, his role in this inadvertent mass crime disqualifies him from the office of President. He probably should answer *for* his responsibility in this practice. The best of intentions do not absolve such a thing. But if you started making doctors answer for crimes against humans and humanity, that would be the end of the medical profession.

    Of course that single excellent point does not make much of a post, so you came up with the others, and they have a cleverness I admit, that for any simply-bright intellect might win a good grade on a paper, but for your blog is a disappointment, and maybe even a disgrace.

    Superficially, is that two-edged mind of yours, so devoted to rational objectivity, unable to even entertain the game of coming up with a question for the democratic contestants? Not even a pretense to obscure the fact that, as you linked, you prefer demons and monsters to anyone with an R beside their name, no matter how convincing their arguments may be?

    But what deeply saddens me about this post is that you have often served (most powerfully in the pieces you tag “Things I will regret”) the same valuable purpose for your fans (and no doubt the many they influence) of giving a glimpse of the other side of their coin that is in very short supply in the blogosphere. It is the custom on the internet that all such business is conducted using straw men, on both sides. Even the rare steelmen tend to be full of straw inside, because as you say, it is not about persuasion per se, it is certainly not about truth, it is about signaling: a primitive level social activity masquerading as a high intellectual one. But you have an ability, that you use from time to time, to break through and challenge minds on both sides of the issue, and in so doing have a kind of impact that is quite rare.

    Sometimes the truth is not just a game–a toy for amusement. Sometimes, the truth matters. You’ve proven that you know this.

    And after a respectful and prudent silence following the latest slaughter of innocents, yet another in a long line of islamic attacks on western civilization–you must have been thinking about this, right?–the best you can do is phone in *this* piece?

    You might have applied that razor sharp mind to clearly see, and to illuminate for others that there are only two kinds of moslem: those willing to use violence to advance their faith and those who are not. Those who are not willing to use violence still intend to breed western civilization out of existence. And they are on course to do so if their radical brethren do not bring down the whole operation with their impatience. Liberals and libertarians and people like you, whatever you are or call yourself these days, have so much to lose with the ascension of an islamic majority in the democratic first world. Which is to say, you stand to lose everything. Most probably including your lives.

    Islam, both the violent and the far more ultimately-dangerous merely-fecund, is simply not compatible with the values you hold dear and the readers of your blog(s) hold dear. It is not compatible with constitutional governments, because it comes with it’s own, perfect and eternal, constitution and set of laws. It is not compatible with individuality, with freedom, with human rights as we understand them in the west. It is not compatible with reason.

    Christianity gave birth to the enlightenment. And in so doing, it became (through an albeit very painful process) compatible-enough with the progress of civilization that it is now a minimal and still-fading threat to progress. A laughingstock to most here, no doubt; a convenient outlet for derision that is still politically correct.

    Islamic populations, however, cannot be assimilated as they are now on any large scale by any non-islamic civilization. Denying this may feel good, but it acquiesces to the slow motion non-violent conquest well under way. The best a rational person can hope for now is we are about to go through, as a species, the reformation of Islam, and it can reasonably be expected to be at least a painful–and for as many by percentage: deadly–as the reformation of Christianity was. The latter took hundreds of years, the former may have to happen over just a few decades.

    Islam is the straw that will break the back of multiculturalism, and much we cherish will fall with that. The confrontation we’re sliding into will be as significant for our great grandchildren as the fall of the Roman empire, or the Enlightenment–depending on which way it goes. And likely more bloody than world war II. No matter how this works out, for all but especially for people in the blue and grey tribes, we’re entering a very dark period. Much will be lost in the best case. (I say especially for blue because red is at least acclimated to the whole “kill or be killed” patriarchal / survival mentality–I knew we kept them around for something.)

    Were it not for oil, Islam might have had the time and room to develop through it’s own reformation and secularization. It might have evolved to be compatible with civilization as we in the west define it. But that was not to be. Islam, unlike every other religion we can point to, still retains it’s fully primal fury, its archetypal “kill them all for God and salt the earth” mentality, either overt or covert.

    The dragon, the conflict that has been going on for 1400 years may have slept a century or two, but it’s now wide awake in an age of global high technology, and it is hungry. The villagers have become so demoralized, so nihilist and decadent, so weak and effete, so obsessed with and consumed by trivalities, they cannot even recognize what is happening let alone fight for their survival.

    Americans and Europeans are in the odd position of being on the bridge looking down at the water and it is the Russians and Chinese trying to edge over and grab us to keep us from jumping.

    You can do better. But I have a pretty firm hunch you won’t. And honestly I don’t blame you. There are people that have had the courage to speak out but maybe this isn’t the best time to paint a target on your back and announce to the moslem world that you are an enemy. Easier to stay quiet and mind your own business, leave it to the Obamas and Merkels of the world to figure it all out. It’s as easy as it is for an anonymous commenter like me to criticize *you* for cowardice. We all pretend like this blog is a shield for your real identity when it is in fact, paper thin. I have no right to ask you to stick your neck out let alone risk your life. Maybe it is not fair to even run this train of thought by you.

    I know, you’re *just* a blogger. Like Jon Stewart was *just* a comedian. This blog, for you, is just a hobby – an amusement. So just pretend you never noticed this comment. Or better yet, delete it.

    But think about this when you’re patting yourself on the back for your effective altruism. You were born at a turning point in the history of civilization, perhaps our very own Fermi paradox bottleneck. And you had the mind and the opportunity to have a real impact. Small, no doubt, but real. Something that could ripple and echo for centuries. And you did what?

    Turn the brilliant light of your honesty on your own conscience for a moment and ask: if you are afraid to use the freedom you have in this unique best-ever-though-plenty-imperfect civilization to speak the truth–the important truth you must see–then do you have freedom at all? Does the civilization you think you are a part of still exist?

    If you answer this, for yourself, as I think you must, then maybe with all that intellect at your disposal you can find a way to say something that is truly effectively altruistic without it getting you killed or harassed. I’ll be watching for that.

    • Dan Peverley says:

      Full disclosure: I’m a right wing nutjob who thinks that Islam has some serious fundamental issues and wants to stop most immigration.

      Your criticism of Scott is way out of proportion and downright narcissistic. If you expected him to publish an Anti-Islamic FAQ today, then it probably has more to do with your current state of mind than with the patterns of this blog. This is a disgrace? What, do you hate the Thom Swifties and short stories as well? You seem to think of Scott as a “skilled opponent” (Who are you, trying to claim status by association?) whose utility to you is to remain in some sort of high maintenance rationalist mode 24/7, but I don’t think I’m alone in liking this sort of content as well. I got a huge kick out of imagining these questions being put to the candidates, because of how absurd and out of place in our political discourse they would be (some of them are deserving of thought, but I can’t imagine any of them in a debate). This sort of rambling, unfocused aggression in places where it won’t help is part of why the left is winning the culture war.

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      There are plenty of other bloggers out there criticizing Islam in no uncertain terms, from left-wing atheists to far-right Whatever-You-Call-John-Derbyshires. Do you think every blogger has an obligation to condemn Islam or something?

      (Also, it’s pretty weird to me how someone can think SSC isn’t anti-leftist enough. Every popular post on this blog is a harsh criticism of the left. There are multiple far-right blogs on the sidebar. You think he considers Republicans worse than “demons and monsters”?)

    • Ben J says:

      It’s when reading comments like these that I remember why I don’t take life too seriously.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Please rant about Islam on your own blog. It is discourteous to write very long comments on someone else’s blog that are unrelated to the subject being discussed.

      P.S. Using the word “moslem” went out of style in the 90’s. I stopped reading after “there are only two kinds of moslem”, as in my experience anyone who says “there are only two kinds of [group member]” where [group] contains 1.6 billion people is a bigoted idiot (as opposed to an intelligent bigot, whose comments I quite enjoy).

    • Urstoff says:

      Chillax, bro

    • I don’t know about Scott, but sometimes I get frivolous under pressure. This doesn’t mean I *stay* frivolous.

      As for your larger point, let’s suppose that a huge number of people are exceedingly fond of a dangerous memeplex. Now what? Please propose solutions which aren’t likely to make matters worse.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      Just yesterday I was wondering why Facebook’s denizens felt obliged to superimpose the French flag over their profile pictures. Now I understand what they were avoiding.

      By the way comrade, you’re a coward for not condemning the patriarchy.

    • Fifey says:

      Even if Islamic fecundity was the biggest problem facing civilization (unlikely), it’s not clear that denouncing Islam is the right move. Muslims make up over 20% of the world population. They aren’t about to go away. Denouncing Islam seems likely to radicalize them further. A better path might be to neuter Islam, the same way Christianity was neutered (Christians previously killed each other for being the wrong kind of Christian and conquered non-Christian nations in order to “convert them to Christianity”; they mostly don’t do this anymore). Or try to increase the fecundity of non-Muslim peoples so they can maintain their demographics.

  29. motif says:

    Trump didn’t use “Trump Card” because he already did it:

  30. Anonymous says:

    I think you’re missing part of the “Unleashing Chiang” story — it seems likely to also refer to Michael Chang, who famously used an underhanded serve en route to winning the 1989 French Open. The first reference I can find to Bush senior’s use of the phrase is from 1990, and both there and in his daughter’s memoir he uses it to describe his (weak) serve.

    That seems early enough to become part of the quirky family lore by the time Jeb gave the sword to Rubio in 2005.

  31. Brandon Berg says:

    So my question for you is – what do you think happens to that person who is in an empty hemisphere, locked out of all sensory input and motor control?

    While a brain is more or less ball-shaped, it’s not hard at all. This doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in your so-called “hardball questions.”

  32. Salem says:

    The Ottomans had a complicated relationship to multiculturalism. Yes, they had the millet system, but this was an attempt to tame religion by bringing it under the control of the state, and this largely worked; by co-opting religious leaders into corrupt bureaucrats dependent on the Ottoman state, it removed their independent authority – cf Adam Smith on established vs unestablished churches.

    Meanwhile, “identity politics” was what they hated and feared the most. They had a perpetual fear that national or religious groupings would rise up against them, so they did everything they could to weaken those identities. So the rulers of Romania were Greeks, the rulers of Egypt were Albanians, and so on. Have Egyptians ruling Egypt and you might just get proto-national solidarity. And when that didn’t work, peoples were physically scattered (cf Circassians forming the modern settlement of Jordan). Indeed, my own family originates from just such a policy; my ancestor fought in the Ottoman army to put down a revolt, and so the victorious soldiers were granted lands to settle as a reward – lands far from their homes, thus disrupting the clan networks of both victors and vanquished.

    This started to change in the 19th century as the Ottomans decided to Turkify.

    • A different dimension of the same policy …

      A territory is conquered. Part of the surrender terms is that the current rulers become high up Ottoman officials somewhere far away. This has two virtues, from the Ottoman point of view:

      1. The rulers are more willing to surrender, since they will still be rich, high status people.

      2. The rulers will depend for their new authority on the Sultan, so be loyal to him, not to those they rule.

      • Tibor says:

        Machiavelli discusses this in his Il Principe and actually presents (and answers) a puzzle I never thought about before – why was it so easy for Alexander to hold the vast territories of the former Persian Empire?

        The answer is that, same as Ottoman Empire later, Persia was centralized, with supreme power in the hands of the Shah and his closest family and everyone else dependent on them. That makes it harder to conquer the land (everyone stands and falls with the ruling dynasty so you cannot rely on the “fifth column” of local nobles who hope to gain something by helping you depose the current monarch) but easier to hold (you do not have navigate the complex web of local lords and their interests).

        • Salem says:

          But the Ottoman Empire wasn’t highly centralised*. On the contrary, the regional governors had immense powers and largely operated independently of Istanbul. As long as they kept the treasure flowing the Sublime Porte had no wish to interfere. This meant that sometimes the regional governor would get too big for his boots and renounce allegiance, and then the region would have to be re-conquered – if the Sultan could manage it.

          Rather, the distinguishing feature** of the Ottoman Empire is the lack of counteracting authority. It wasn’t that the system of authority was centralised, so much as that there was no alternative system to challenge it. The Sultan owned all land, and there was no hereditary nobility, and he appointed all the judges, and he was the Caliph, and so on. He was the font of all authority, in a way in which European monarchs, who had to contend with nobles, and churchmen, and courts of law, and so on, could only dream about. And this made it unstable, because if you usurped the Sultan, what alternative authority could say you’re not the true Sultan? Hence frequent intrigues and palace coups and fratricide.

          *This is a precis. The Ottoman empire lasted hundreds of years and changed in its structures over that time. It became a lot more centralised in the 19th century, and eventually got certain trappings of alternative authority, such as a Parliament.
          **Distinguishing compared to the West. This is of course the standard model for what scholars of an earlier age referred to as “Oriental Despotism.”

        • alexp says:

          I don’t have much to back this up, but sometimes I suspect that Machiavelli overestimated the authority and centrality of the Achaemenid Persian King of Kings.

          • A long time ago I read an article draft—I don’t know if it was ever published—on the size of empires. The author argued that the Persian empire was a breakthrough, bigger in area times time than anything before it. He attributed that to the invention of the Viceroy system, successfully combining centralization and decentralization.

          • Protagoras says:

            @David Friedman, The story of Persian success I’d encountered was that the Assyrians set the precedent of massive empire, established some valuable institutions and traditions, and utterly crushed local elites, and made themselves totally hated, leading to the revolts that destroyed them. The Persians moved into the subsequent messy power vacuum, taking over before local institutions could fully re-establish themselves and building on what the Assyrians had done right, but without the Assyrian ruthlessness (helped by the fact that they didn’t have to exterminate quite so many local elites) they avoided the hate and so suffered far less from revolts. Of course, probably multiple factors were at work.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Protagoras, you are addressing a different question. You are addressing the question of how Cyrus managed such a big conquest in such a short time. But Alex and David are talking about how the Persian empire was much bigger than the Assyrian empire. This is a question of it managing to survive through time, not of how it grew so quickly at the beginning. Also, the power vacuum only addresses it being as big as the Assyrian empire, not how it managed to be bigger.

            (On the other hand, is the fact that they are trying to explain even surprising? I think Persia was Elam+Assyria+Anatolia, maybe 2x as big as the reigning champ, but that’s not such a big jump.)

          • Protagoras says:

            No, the theory was supposed to address the long-term survival, too, via explaining the lower level of revolts.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What do you mean about Albanians? Do you mean the dynasty of Muhammad Ali that ruled Egypt for the last 150 years? He was not exactly chosen by the Sultan. But maybe your point is that the Sultan didn’t have a strong opinion between him and the also foreign Mamelukes, but would have intervened if a local had tried to depose the Mamelukes?

      I don’t think that the Circassians were removed to Jordan by the Ottomans. Those fleeing Russia were allowed to settle there.

      • Salem says:

        I never said the Circassians were “removed to Jordan.” But neither were they “allowed to settle” there, exactly. When the Circassians were expelled from Russia, there was a deliberate policy of scattering them around the Ottoman Empire, some in Jordan, some in Anatolia, etc, to break their tribal ties. That is also why they were not allowed to settle in the Ottoman parts of the Caucasus; too dangerous.

        As for Mohammed Ali – he’s a classic example of a regional governor appointed by the Ottomans, but then breaking away! In that case, the Ottoman Empire wasn’t able to reconquer the territory, so they lost it forever.

  33. Deiseach says:

    what do you think happens to that person who is in an empty hemisphere, locked out of all sensory input and motor control?

    Do you really consider part of consciousness (which we can’t even get a consensus on that such a thing even exists, rather than being an illusion) constitutes a person? Because all Dr Carson has to do is quote abortion law at you, where an entire foetus with an entire brain isn’t even a person. What evidence do you or anyone else have that says “part of a brain may or may not be aware and that makes it a person?”

    your belief that the Ottoman Empire was the greatest civilization in the world

    Seriously? Okay, that has just lost my vote (er – if I had one, that is). I’m not even in favour of letting Turkey into the EU and they keep trying to present themselves as modern Western secular state, honest we are.

    Jeb Bush, presented you with a golden sword, which he said was the “Sword of Chang”

    Isn’t this commonplace for America and Americans? You lot invented all kinds of lodges and fraternities with these kinds of carry-on. Half your Founding Fathers were Freemasons*. This is normal, for a certain value of “normal”, where Americans are concerned. No, nobody really believes it’s a mystic sword of a mystic warrior, but it’s the dressing-up and ritual that counts. This is just the Elder Elk handing on the Stonecutter’s Paraphernalia to the Initiate of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes.

    (*Historical exaggeration, not to be taken seriously).

    That the best debater in the country would also be the best choice for President? Or that he would be really really really good at making us think that he would be?

    Frankly, he’s sounding the best bet of the lot of them.

    • JBeshir says:

      Well, we have some idea of the limit of consciousness of a foetus, having all been one at some point and not remembering any thoughts from the time- they either lack ‘thought’ or lack memory formation, unless something happens to cause forgetting (which seems unlikely?).

      Whereas it isn’t at all clear that an isolated hemisphere lacks those things.

      Edit: You’re right that Carson could, in a debate format, pivot to abortion successfully, though, since you wouldn’t have a realistic opportunity for a back and forth.

      • FJ says:

        What sound does a cow make? You probably learned the answer to that question before your second birthday. Do you remember where you were when you learned it? Probably not, because autobiographical memory develops far later than cognition and general memory. The mere fact that no adult can recall the womb doesn’t really say anything about whether cognition or even memory-formation occurs there.

        • wysinwyg says:

          We can get more specific and say “episodic memory formation”, and arbitrarily decide that the ability to remember (and therefore recount) a coherent biographical narrative is what it means to be a “person”.

          Note that this is not less or more arbitrary than deciding a fertilized egg or implanted embryo constitutes a “person”.

          From my perspective, the salient way to think about personhood w/r/t abortion:
          -homicides of full grown human beings cause social instability
          -homicides* of foetuses don’t cause social instability, and may in fact help prevent it

          The purpose of the law is prevent social instability, not enforce morality. Therefore, homicides are bad and abortions are somewhere between a mild moral hazard and maybe not actually such a bad idea.

          *granting for the sake of argument that foetuses just are people, because this is ultimately a boring and pointless argument whose results prove nothing whatsoever to anyone who didn’t already agree

          • FJ says:

            @wysinwyg: “We can get more specific and say “episodic memory formation”, and arbitrarily decide that the ability to remember (and therefore recount) a coherent biographical narrative is what it means to be a “person”.”
            Sure, we *could* do that. We could come up with any number of arbitrary criteria for personhood (as history amply demonstrates). Your criterion, which requires fairly well-developed language skills and a strong sense of chronology, would exclude anyone under the age of five or so from personhood. By all means feel free to advocate that society ought to draw the line there, but I recommend coming up with a better argument than “any definition is inherently arbitrary.” Just because all definitions are arbitrary does not mean they are all equally attractive.

            “The purpose of the law is prevent social instability, not enforce morality.”
            To you, maybe. If you look around the globe, however, I suspect you’ll find that there are plenty of laws that seem designed to address moral concerns rather than sociological ones. You appear to be conflating your preference for what the law ought to be with what the law, in fact, is.

            ETA: I also have to disagree with your implicit hypothesis that only homicides of fully-grown adults lead to social instability. Even assuming arguendo that society benefits from a high abortion rate, the stage at which homicide becomes a net negative is probably well before maturity. For example, by far the most well-known victim of the Boston Marathon bombing was Martin Richard, an eight-year-old boy. When the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, much of the coverage focused on the fact that 15 children died in the daycare on site. Contrary to your hypothesis, people actually care *more* about the deaths of young children than they do about the deaths of adults — even when more adults die than kids.

      • m. mola says:

        Also many of us have cared for or at least held newborn babies. Maybe I’m typical minding here, but to me it’s just plainly obvious by looking at them, in a way that requires no further evidence, that a newborn human is less conscious, less aware and less sapient than a cow or a dog.

        I’d be easily willing to believe most people avoid this observation because they can sense it would lead to unpalatable conclusions. Namely that abortion and infanticide can’t be condemned on the grounds that you’re harming a thinking, feeling being (unless you’re vegan and also condemn euthanizing pet dogs that aren’t terminal and suffering). Good people are supposed to think babies are [insert sentimental/conservative meaningless drivel] and you want to signal that you’re good.

        • Nathan says:

          Father of two, this is not obvious to me at all. I would argue the reverse – babies are at least in the same range of intelligence as a full grown adult, but lack the experience and existing knowledge base to do anything with it.

          Besides which I get very uneasy about arguments that base the value of lives on intelligence, because of the obvious implications that has about disabled or otherwise unintelligent people.

          • m. mola says:

            Are you sure it’s not just your love for your children, your instinct to bond with them, or hindsight after having seen them develop that is leading you to antropomorphize newborns in ways that are unjustified based strictly on observation? Or maybe you don’t like animals and find it hard to see intelligence and personhood in them? Maybe you’ve never known an intelligent animal really well?

            Determining the moral value of beings based on their capacity for self awareness and suffering doesn’t make me happy either. It goes against my compassion and sense of sanctity. But, y’know, utilitarianism and taboo tradeoffs etc.

          • FJ says:

            @m. mola: If “[d]etermining the moral value of beings based on their capacity for self awareness and suffering doesn’t make [you] happy”, perhaps that’s a reason not to do it? You don’t HAVE to be a utilitarian, you know. In fact, if the implications of strict utilitarianism conflict strongly with your moral intuitions, then maybe you never were one to begin with. There are dozens of us!

          • m. mola says:

            @ FJ
            Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t think you can deconvert me. But thanks for trying, anyway.

            My moral intuitions conflict strongly with each other, and utilitarianism is the best way to commensurate them that I’ve come across so far. The kind of situations where all available options are bad are going to feel bad regardless of how the choice is made.

          • FJ says:

            @m. mola: Shoot. Looks like a job for President Cruz.

          • Nathan says:

            Watching my kids develop appears to me to be watching intelligent people who start off knowing essentially nothing slowly building up the basics of knowledge necessary to learn even more new things. It appears to me to be a very different kind of intelligence to that of e.g. a goat.

          • m. mola says:

            @ Nathan,

            okay, then, I stand corrected. It is not obvious to people generally, even with a little prompting.

    • Dirdle says:

      Do you really consider part of consciousness (which we can’t even get a consensus on that such a thing even exists, rather than being an illusion) constitutes a person? Because all Dr Carson has to do is quote abortion law at you, where an entire foetus with an entire brain isn’t even a person. What evidence do you or anyone else have that says “part of a brain may or may not be aware and that makes it a person?”

      Edit for clarity – The part of the brain that remains connected to the body is observably a person:

      Studies have found no significant long-term effects on memory, personality, or humor,[4] and minimal changes in cognitive function overall.[5]

      It’s worth noting that Wikipedia seems to be overstating the case here, as the second study describes it more as:

      Adaptive skills were mildly impaired, with greatest impairment in the physical domain. Cognitive measures typically changed little between surgery and follow-up, with IQ change <15 points for 34 of 53 patients; of the remainder, 11 declined and eight improved. Behavior was free of major problems, but social interactions and activities were limited.

      But still, you’re saying Carson would happily conflate foetuses and at-least-partly-functional adults in the bizarro universe where these questions can get asked, which I would speculate includes a press that would notice him doing so.

      • Deiseach says:

        Why this sudden coyness about foetuses? We’re not talking about killing people, we’re talking about “is the disconnected half of the brain aware” – which is one question – and from that “if it is aware, can it be considered a person?”

        We are perfectly happy to say “biological entities that are functional with brains connected to bodies are not persons while in utero“. Why this “oooh, maybe it is a person, maybe there are two persons in the one skull, what a horrible thought” delicacy now? We permit abortion on the grounds that there are not two people in one body, but only one legally defined person with all the rights. The personality of the brain-half connected to the body and communicating with the outside world is the legally defined person with all the rights, and whatever about possible separate awareness in the other half of the brain, we haven’t yet demonstrated such a thing exists.

        Simply rule that half a brain, shut off from all outside stimuli, not communicating with the outside in any way, is the equivalent of a foetus in utero before it is viable and leave it at that. Just as the right to life and health of the pregnant woman over-rides any concern (the unborn do not have any legal rights) about the state of the foetus, so the seizure-free half of the brain is the part with the greater right to life. Arguing for these kinds of operations not to be carried out because of theoretical risk of some kind of awareness continuing to exist, and even more tenuously that it may be suffering, is along the same lines as the “Fetusphile” in this cartoon.

        Swap out “This is a zygote! It matters infinitely more than its oven does!” for “This is a detached hemisphere! It matters infinitely more than its support system does!” and surely you can see the illogic of your position?

        Such an argument condemns someone to suffer ongoing seizures and threatens their human rights to life; privacy; health; equality; freedom and security of the person, including bodily autonomy. For the sake of one hemisphere, the entire body and person must suffer?

        If the people who have undergone these operations are not reporting voices in their heads, nightmares about screaming people they can’t see, or anything to suggest any communication from the severed half, then this really is of no concern to anyone.

        • Susebron says:

          It’s less about the ethics of killing the other hemisphere, and more about consigning the hemisphere to sensory deprivation for the rest of the patient’s life. In Scott’s original post about Ben Carson, he stated that if (by some absurd improbability) he had to undergo a hemispherectomy, he would ask that the other hemisphere be destroyed.

        • Nicholas Carter says:

          Actually, my specific object-level reason for being morally okay with abortion is that between weeks 6 and 28 the fetus transitions from having no brain at all to having the brains of a sheep. So it’s definitely okay to abort a fetus in the first 6 weeks, and as okay to abort a fetus in the next 22 weeks as it is to eat meat, because I weigh things morally by IQ. There comes a point between 28 weeks and 300 weeks that the fetus is sapient enough to be people, and the end of the second trimester seems like a nice, conservative Schelling point RE what matters to me.

        • Dirdle says:

          To the above points I would add:
          What makes you think I’m staking out any position? I just pointed out the difference in evidence: we observe moral-worth-having-agent-type actions on the part of the connected brain half, and would need a good reason to suppose that the highly-similar disconnected brain half has ceased being a moral-worth-having-agent. However, we do not observe similar actions on the part of foetuses*.

          I mean, there’s a continuum from “not a person” to “a person.” We have already observed that separated half-brains are at least most of the way towards being a person. We have observed that partially-developed foetal brains are not so close to being a person*. Saying “but half a brain is kind of like a partial brain is kind of like a foetal brain” is constructing a false reference class, “partial brain,” that puts together things that do not really belong together.

          * – Assumed to be part of the pro-abortion position, would prefer not to argue about here. Guaranteed derail into a provocative/polarising topic.

    • Vorkon says:

      That the best debater in the country would also be the best choice for President? Or that he would be really really really good at making us think that he would be?

      Frankly, he’s sounding the best bet of the lot of them.

      I don’t know about that. The Superintelligence might be beyond my ability to match wits with, but it is, ultimately, bound by the same physical laws as myself.

      The power of the Sword of Chang, on the other hand, is beyond our mortal ken. I fear that no physical entity, no matter how intelligent, could ever hope to stand against it.

    • Vaniver says:

      (*Historical exaggeration, not to be taken seriously).

      This depends on how you slice things, but it seems likely that over half of the signers of the Constitution were Masons.

    • thisguy says:

      You are taking this whole thing way too seriously.

  34. multiheaded says:

    This is all simply amazing and unexpectedly silly 😀

  35. Phil says:

    I’m trying to imagine where you first heard of the Holy Lance, I feel like I’m pretty exposed to some nutty Christian theories, and I’ve never heard of that before

    I’m wondering if you ever had a patient that told you all about the Holy Lance

    anyway, well done, that was funny

    • Randy M says:

      I first heard about it one the short lived TV series Roar.

    • Winfried says:

      I first saw it in the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, although it’s been referenced in several movies I’ve seen like Constantine and Hellboy.

      It’s also called the Lance of Longinus and the Spear of Destiny.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Not counting the reference on Neon Genesis Evangelion, I first learned about the Holy Spear from a documentary I watched on the Hitler Channel.

  36. stillnotking says:

    Sword of Chang followup questions: If the Sword/Spear retained its mystical properties after being reforged, necessarily losing some of its material in the process, does this imply that any amount of material originally from the Spear would carry those properties? If so, what would you say to a plan to give every American a 1/300,000,000 part of it? Would you consider that a “government handout”? How do you think God/The Antichrist would feel about it? How would conflicts between multiple possessors of micro-Spears be resolved? What would be the implications of the success of this program for homeopathy?

    Wonderful post, sir. Laughed myself silly.

  37. Steve Sailer says:

    “It’s unclear how we got from George H. W. Bush’s constant threats to “unleash Chiang” on people, to his son’s belief that Chang was a mystical conservative warrior. Maybe it was a joke, either Bush Sr. pranking Jeb or Jeb pranking you.”

    I believe it’s a pretty funny GHWB joke from 1989 when 5′-7″ Asian-American tennis pro Michael Chang won the French Open with his baseline game. The 6′-3″ President started using the phrase “unleash Chang” — conflating Chiang Kai-shek and Michael Chang — while serving on the White House tennis court.

    It’s not clear if Jeb remembers the joke.

  38. Jordan D. says:

    This theory about the Sword of Chang is pretty persuasive, and I think it raises some difficult ethical questions. If the power of the Sword is such that its weilder cannot be defeated in battle, what counts as a battle? What issues can Rubio be successfully opposed on, and on which will he enjoy the powers of the antichrist? Can we permit a private citizen to assert ownership of such an overwhelming military asset?

    Also, on a practical level, when is the Sword’s power in effect? If the story about one ruler falling in battle after dropping the Holy Spear is true, does its power only apply when you’re actually holding it? Or does it retain symbolic efficacy while mounted in Rubio’s office?

    This campaign season just got a lot more interesting.

    • DrBeat says:

      Do you have to be, like, HOLDING holding it, or just touching your body?

      Can we have the President of the United States giving speeches with a sword taped to his back like a World of Warcraft character?

      • Leit says:

        Maybe get one of those fancy Duncan MacLeod trenchcoats and just hold onto it inside that?

        And then he could complete the look with some dignified and classic headwear, like say a trilby!

    • Jaskologist says:

      I’m really enjoying the image of Rubio charging alone into ISIS territory with his sword raised high, just hacking away at any who stand in his way.

      Debate Moderator: What is best in life?
      Rubio: Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.

    • Loquat says:

      Additional practical questions, with special relevance to the Secret Service:

      Does the wielder have to be on or near the battlefield proper for the power of the Sword to affect the outcome? If so, does the power stop working abruptly at a certain distance, or is it more of a gradual attenuation as the wielder moves farther away? If having the President personally attend a given battle is impracticable, can the sword be loaned to someone else to carry into battle, and if so does it have to be the senior officer in charge of the operation?

  39. baconbacon says:

    Cruz: We know of a being of super intelligence and rhetorical brilliance, for He is our Lord. Who is it that has the ability to shape reality to His whim? Our Lord. We must consider that he rhetorical skills are not a trick, but the Truth for our Lord’s will shall be done. If I am one day blessed enough to stand in the light of our Lord, it will be through my faith in his words that I do so.

    • John Sidles says:

      That is a thought-provoking post, baconbacon.

      It calls to mind Ted Chiang’s (Hugo/Nebula/Locus/Sturgeon/Seiun-winning) short-novella Hell is the Absence of God (2002), whose concluding paragraphs give a concrete exemplar of this model of faith:

      Neil even knows that by being beyond God’s awareness, he is not loved by God in return. This doesn’t affect his feelings either, because unconditional love asks nothing, not even that it be returned.

      And though it’s been many years that he has been in Hell, beyond the awareness of God, he loves Him still. That is the nature of true devotion.

      Indeed there is (seemingly) no political, economic, philosophical, rationalistic, moral, religious, national, tribal, or familial ideology, that is so bankrupt as to be incapable of inspiring true devotion.

  40. theslowblitz says:

    Great post! I found it really funny. I was giggling like a maniac on the bus this morning. That said, I don’t buy the Cruz story either.

    The logic rests on either one of two positions being valid, but the case may be that they are both valid, just in different moral systems. (Though I do not agree with it, the anti-abortionists’ position can be strongly internally consistent. Marriage is a codification of love, and sex in a marriage strengthens that love. Children are God’s gifts for love. Therefore, you shouldn’t try to prevent children, by contraceptives or by other means. If you have not yet codified your love, then sex has no purpose, and you should abstain.)

    Given that you specified that these are controversial issues, they are likely not factual issues, but moral ones (or there’d be no controversy). If there is no ‘right’ position that excludes all other positions, then I see no reason why I should not believe a persuasive argument for one position or the other. The importing thing is that it is persuasive, and I believe it.

    That is, in fact, how I’ve ‘chosen’ my existing positions; I’ve been influenced by other completely arbitrary positions.

    In fact, if I run the gauntlet of a hundred or so controversial issues, and the intelligence persuaded me of all one hundred of its arbitrary positions, then I now have an internally consistent moral system that applies to pretty much every issue I might happen across. That moral system is likely also more based in reality than my current moral system (it is much easier to give false evidence of an arbitrary position than a hundred, and the intelligence has to give evidence if it is to be persuasive at all.)

    Of course, the entire post could be hyperbole, and I’ve spent an hour arguing against myself.

    • Murphy says:

      ” then I now have an internally consistent moral system that applies to pretty much every issue I might happen across”

      I’m not sure this holds.

      So the intelligence reaches into the pot and pulls out the first card. Issue 1, dog meat, aye or nay and convinces you that eating dog meat is the right and just thing to do, in fact, that it’s practically an ethical obligation to eat dogs. It seems so obvious now that you can’t imagine ever wanting to change your mind.

      Next it picks out the second card, veganism, aye or nay and convinces you that eating meat of any kind if obviously wrong. You can’t imagine ever wanting to change your mind.

      Next it picks out the third card. Torturing/abusing animals for human amusement, is it ok if enough humans enjoy it enough? aye or nay. The intelligence convinces you that it’s obviously ok to torture animals if it generates enough fun for humans.

      Next it picks out “plant pain: are plants of ethical consequence” and convinces you that they are.

      Next it picks out “Is there an ethical imperative to preserve your own life” and convinces you that there is a clear ethical imperative.

      And it all feels right and natural together until the moment when you have to decide what to have for lunch and what to watch while having lunch because there’s a clear ethical imperative to eat the family dog but also eating it is clearly wrong but eating either salad or beef instead is also wrong but you aren’t allowed to just let yourself starve and you’ve got a bullfight you really must watch….

      You could find yourself without an even vaguely consistent world-view experiencing massive cognitive dissonance.

      • theslowblitz says:

        I’m not sure my imagining that I’d never change my mind had any weight. I don’t necessarily have the best insight into these things. But I’d think that if the intelligence persuade me that being vegan is good, it’d necessarily has to persuade me out of the previous position it had persuaded me of, that dog-eating is good.

        • JBeshir says:

          Ah, the classic theological problem: Can a superintelligence reason you into a position so well it can’t reason you out of it?

          • Luke Somers says:

            This is much less obnoxious than the original due to the simple answer, ‘Well, it was YOUR hypothetical. You tell me!’

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Factual issues can be controversial, most notably regarding the economy. Eg., will stimulus spending help the economy? Will the minimum wage help or hurt the poor? How about immigration?

      Foreign policy, too; eg. whether a nation had WMDs, what the long-term effects of intervention would be.

    • onyomi says:

      This may sound incredibly obvious, but I think it’s important to remember that we all agree on far more than we disagree on. That is, there aren’t really two sides to the “killing children for fun is wrong” ethical issue, nor to the “Abraham Lincoln was a real person and not an elaborate puppet controlled by two dogs” historical issue.

      I know, “d’uh”… but I think keeping this in mind is a useful antidote to the impression one may get when approaching common philosophical and political questions that every issue has two sides and all that really matters is how well you argue it. Rather, certain issues keep coming up precisely because they have two sides which may be plausibly argued.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        There are plenty of people who do not think “killing children for fun is wrong”.

        From the millions of people on the street who will say “morality is just, like, your opinion, man” and “don’t judge” to quite a large percentage of professional philosophers who study ethics who believe in some kind of moral non-realism.

        Also, the term “wrong” itself obscures vast differences in what people actually think it refers to. If one person thinks wrong means “contrary to God’s commandments” and another thinks it means “contrary to the greatest happiness of the greatest number”, do they really agree on whether it is “wrong”?

        As an analogy, even if I decide to use the word “Antichrist” to mean “president”, I do not thereby actually agree with certain fundamentalists that Obama is the Antichrist; the term is being used equivocally. We might very well think we mean the same thing, but we don’t.

        As for myself, I actually do think that killing children for fun is wrong…in a certain sense, which is not the same sense as a Kantian deontologist means it. However, I don’t think that the vast majority of people, who have never studied ethics, are in any justifiable position to say that they know it is wrong to kill children for fun. And a professional philosopher (let alone a superintelligence) could almost certainly demolish their criterion of judging right or wrong, since they don’t know the arguments.

        • Protagoras says:

          One of the reasons I lean utilitarian is because I think that although people are sometimes quite bad at figuring out what they ought to do, they seem to me to be far worse at figuring out why, providing the most absurd and contradictory justifications. Since most of the alleged counter-examples to utilitarianism are things that would be bad strategy in practice, I take the real objection to utilitarianism to be that it provides the wrong reasons for not doing things (it’s supposed to be more than just practical, strategic concerns!), and so since I give very little weight to people’s intuitions about reasons, that objection doesn’t impress me. Similarly, in your second paragraph, I think that yes, they do really agree, because what they think they mean is less reliable and authoritative than their object level judgments, and the object level judgments of people like those you describe frequently agree, not just on the present issue (and rather too often to be coincidence, I would say).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I’m not sure how the fact that people are terrible at figuring out the right reasons to do things is an argument for the validity of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism says that you should do things because they promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. But a) that seems to me like a terrible reason to do anything, b) almost nobody follows it in any serious way, and c) it therefore works as an enormous rationalization machine, whereby people argue that what they want to do anyway serves the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

            Utilitarianism sounds pleasant enough to the average person so long as you allow him to be an extremely fake utilitarian. But when you tell him that, no, it almost certainly means he needs to give all his money to Africa or something, it doesn’t sound so hot. So utilitarianism fails pretty badly the criterion of “systematizing our intuitions”.

            As Scott himself as admitted, anyone who followed utilitarianism strictly, without “sanity-preserving exceptions”, would be miserable. This is not contradicted by the fact that utilitarianism aims to make people happy. Utilitarianism aims to make people in general happy, not to make its practitioners happy. If they can improve the happiness of others by an amount more than the sacrifice of their own, they should.

            Secondly, I recognize your point that they agree on the object-level course of action of not killing children. But they do not thereby agree that it is wrong. Moral wrongness is a “meta-level” concept.

            Furthermore, there is a very strong reason why people of all sorts of metaethical frameworks are pushed to “fake” them in order to justify a similar set of object-level actions. The reason is that a flourishing life and a functioning society have certain objective requirements in order to continue existing. Individuals tend to survive and flourish insofar as they obey this natural law of prudence, and societies as they promote its observance.

            Out of the space of all crazy religious injunctions, we can rule out (from having the potential to flourish) first of all the ones that are so naturally repugnant to human psychology that they don’t appeal to anyone. In fiction, Cthulhu cult is supposed to have served him by murdering people for no reward whatsoever—not even that of being eaten first when he returns. But real people aren’t like that. They’ll do cruel things, but only for some kind of purpose.

            Another we can rule out is a religion that tells people life is suffering: so make sure not to reproduce and, better yet, kill yourself. It has always seemed to me that suicide is the natural conclusion of Buddhistic-type thinking. But those who concluded that couldn’t propagate their beliefs.

            But we musn’t commit the naturalistic fallacy. It is conceivable that existence really is an evil (see Sister Y or something), that following natural law is evil, and that therefore every successful philosophy or religion will ipso facto be evil.

            Anyway, this is all to say that the fact that almost everyone abhors and refrains from killing children for fun is not evidence that it is wrong. Because you would expect just the same thing if it were right or indifferent.

        • onyomi says:

          “There are plenty of people who do not think “killing children for fun is wrong”.”

          I don’t think there are.

          There may be a few philosophers who think all moral questions are incoherent, but that is different from taking the position that the question makes sense, but the consensus answer is wrong.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            There is a proposition: “Killing children is wrong.” True, false, or neither?

            As I see it, if there is no sense in which you would say “true”, you do not believe that killing children is wrong. That’s a minimal criterion. There are a lot of interpretations that many people would not consider as “really counting” as thinking that it is wrong (such as “Well, if you interpret ‘wrong’ to mean that our culture disapproves of it”), but I’m going to allow those.

            There are still plenty of philosophers who do not endorse any usage of “wrong” such that killing children is wrong. Although they would surely agree that our culture disapproves of it, they might not believe that “wrong” is the proper way of describing this fact.

          • onyomi says:

            There is still no substantive debate about the question, though. There is debate about the bigger question: “does it make sense to debate ethical questions,” but insofar as it does, no one disagrees about the object level answer to that particular question.

            My point is, to the extent it makes sense to debate moral questions at all (and almost everyone but a few philosophers thinks it does), it is not the case that there are persuasive arguments on either side of every issue. Certain issues like abortion stand out because everyone always talks about them, but there are still many more areas of widespread, usually tacit, agreement.

  41. Matthew says:

    I think real debate moderators might also ask less inane questions if they, too, were allowed to narrate them for ~4 paragraphs each before ceding airtime to the actual candidate.

  42. Paul says:

    If there was a superintelligence, why would it be picking positions out of a hat? We should only distrust the superintelligent Cruz if we we think that he is malevolent and wants to harm humanity. If we think he is leaning at all toward things that benefit humanity (maybe because he is human?), then our belief in his superintelligence should make him the best candidate irrespective of how he performs in the debate. Granted, we could not take any of his words or actions as evidence of his beneficence or malevolence…

    • Murphy says:

      I don’t know, I can think of some humans who’s value systems are so at odds with my own that I wouldn’t want them getting more power, especially if they’re super-intelligent.

      For example: if there was a magical device which could drop 200 extra IQ points into someones head I’d prefer it not be used at all over it just being used on some of the patients in Broadmoor.

    • John Ohno says:

      A random strategy is the only strategy that doesn’t have a single perfect counterstrategy in a fair game. If we assume that morality is ‘fair’, then a completely random constellation of moral positions is the only constellation that doesn’t have a single perfect moral counter-constellation. This is why an ideal superintelligent debater would pick his opinions at random — nobody could predict and thus attempt to counter his arguments by determining his position on any other given issue beforehand and thus determining his argument based on a sense of consistency with previous arguments.

    • anon says:

      The point is that his ability to convince us of his positions or that he is right for the job is based not on whether merit is there or not but on a skill to convince that the merit is there regardless of whether that’s true. The AI is perfect and can always convince you and thus must be ignored 100%, a debate club participant is much less perfect but presumably still has some of that ability so must be distrusted partially.

  43. Psmith says:

    Damn. That Ted Cruz link makes me miss high school debate.

  44. John Ohno says:

    This is glorious and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing it. It was more than worth my one dollar patreon pledge.

  45. NN says:

    There seem to be some weird assumptions behind the Jeb Bush question. It seems obvious that the US presidential election selects not for individuals who are good at being President but for individuals who are good at winning elections. There is unquestionably some overlap between the two skill sets, but simply assuming that they are exactly the same thing is begging the question.

    • Tibor says:


    • wysinwyg says:

      I retroactively read it as a setup for the brilliant “Sword of Chang” part.

    • onyomi says:

      I actually interpreted it as the most serious question of the bunch:

      “Jeb: given that your father and brother have already been president, what are the odds that you truly happen to be the best man for the job, rather than that you simply have a lot of good connections and a powerful family?”

  46. Corey Kosak says:

    Brilliant article. May I suggest adding Trump University (now “The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative”) to your list?

  47. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Loved the post. I laughed out loud in multiple places, including the Jeb one. But I have to join the many commenters disputing the reasoning there.

    For me, the thing you’ve ignored is discoverability. The best candidate in the country is quite likely nowhere near politics and will never go anywhere near politics. “The best candidate” is not an option we have.

    So the question is, how good are the other processes by which candidates become candidates? If these processes are poor, it on the one hand makes it less likely that HW was such a great president, but also makes it less likely the other candidates are any good.

    I think the answer is that if you think HW (and W) was an above-average president in ways hard to measure beforehand, that should be evidence Jeb will be above-average in those ways.

    tl;dr if we’re bad at finding candidates, and we luck out and get a good one, that leader’s kin may likely be better than the alternatives despite almost certainly not being there best possibility overall.

    If you liked the Bushes, choosing another is probably rational.

  48. rminnema says:

    I actually own Trump: The Game.

    (Street cred: I am something of a boardgame enthusiast. I’m a regular on Boardgamegeek. My collection these days stands at about 170 games. I play X-Wing and Star Wars: Armada with my 6- and 7-year olds.)

    Trump: The Game is not bad. There are two editions of the game, and I own the one published in 1989. The more recently published one is not as good. But the ’89 edition has some interesting mechanics and causes some tension in the hidden value of the properties. If you get a savvy group of players who are interested, it’s fun to play. The Trump branding detracts from what is a pretty good high-capitalist game. It’s not Power Grid or Puerto Rico, but it’s a decent way to while away a couple of hours.

  49. alexp says:

    So how is Chiang Kai Shek pronounced?

    In Mandarin, Chiang, is pronounced “Jiang”, so it seems almost more plausible that “Chang” refers to Michael Chang than the former dictator of China and Taiwan.

    But if it’s more like “Chang” in southern dialects, or Taiwanese, then I stand corrected.

    • onyomi says:

      The common Romanization for his name is based on the pronunciation of those characters in Cantonese. And in Cantonese, 張 and 蔣 are, in fact, pronounced the same, but for the tone. In Cantonese, the names sounds like “Jeng Guy-sek”

  50. Chris Conner says:

    Your question to Bush uses the wrong figure for the number of Americans who might make a better President. The total population of the United States is about 320 million. But the population age 35 or greater is only about 170 million. If Bush really is 3.6 standard deviations above the mean in presidentosity, then there are only about 68,000 eligible people who would make a better president than Bush. The 8000 or so people in the 0-to-4 age bracket who would do a better job are not relevant for this election.

    Your question to Cruz is even more distorted by using the wrong population for comparison. His competition in the debating championship he won was drawn from only the few million people enrolled in college at the time. So, if he has maintained his form since his undergraduate days (and who has?), then we can suppose that he’s a one-in-ten-million or so debater, and we have no reason to fear a superintelligence-level debating facility that borders on mind control.

    A better question for Cruz would be: “Senator, a presidential candidate’s appeal can be crudely modeled as the sum of the candidate’s actual skill at using the office of the Presidency to benefit the nation, and the candidate’s skill at convincing the electorate that he or she has that skill. A candidate who was superior in both of these qualities would dominate the field, but you are not dominating the field. Given what we know of your considerable debating skill, should we not conclude that you would perform poorly in office? Please include an explication of Berkson’s paradox in your answer.”

  51. alexp says:

    Also, I have question about Ted Cruz’s college debate experience.

    When I was in college, the serious competitive debate team was the Policy Debate team. It almost functioned like a sports team, where debaters were recruited from high school and were in contact with the coach before even stepping foot on campus. They practiced every day, and did their own research outside of practice. There was one topic for the entire season, which was thoroughly vivisected and every team thought of every possible argument and counterargument. There was also a Parliamentary debate team, which was much less serious and usually met for something like two hours every week.

    Policy Debate had almost nothing to do with persuasion. Instead debaters spent their time throwing out arguments and speaking so fast that nobody but an experienced policy debater could understand them.

    I couldn’t tell with a quick google which debate format Ted Cruz participated in while he was an undergrad. It didn’t sound like either Policy or Parliamentary. Was it Lincoln-Douglas? I don’t think my college did Lincoln Douglas debates, but I encountered it in high school.

  52. ad says:

    As the war wound down, the relic caught the special attention of General George Patton, who brought it back safely to Vienna afterwards. But ever since that time there have been various rumors that it was a fake

    Patton was killed in a car accident in December 1945, presumably just after he had relinquished control over the lance. Does that count as evidence that it was the real Lance?

    • Hlynkacg says:

      There are a fair number of rumors/urban legends that circulate within the US military suggesting that Patton’s death was no accident.

  53. Douglas Knight says:

    victory to all who own it…the Austrian Habsburgs…winning the greatest empire in European history

    But we know what makes Austria unique:

    Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube!
    Nam quae Mars aliis, dat tibi regna Venus!

    Or is this why you inserted phrases like “worldly success” in place of your source’s “conquer the world”?

  54. eric says:

    wow this is great thanks.

  55. lliamander says:

    With regard to the question addressed to Dr. Carson, all neurosurgeons and neurologists know that seizures are caused by demonic possession. Dr. Carson, being a Seventh-Day Adventist, cannot avail himself of a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox priest to perform an exorcism (which is just as well, because the reliability of exorcisms declined precipitously following the formal Catholic/Orthodox schism in 1054).

    The innovative aspect of Dr. Carson’s technique was to lure the malevolent spirit in one hemisphere of the brain, and then physically separating it from the part inhabited by the human soul[1]. So, to answer your question, the hemisphere is occupied by a consciousness, but since that since that consciousness is fundamentally evil and inimical to human life, the ethics review board considered the result to be just and ethical.

    [1]You can read more about the details of this procedure in the journal Thaumaturgical Neuropathy.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Ah, but how can Dr. Carson (or anyone else) be sure which hemisphere of the brain is occupied by the victim and which is occupied by the demon? Would the surgery be cutting a demon off from the world, or helping it imprison a human? Perhaps we should investigate patients’ future careers after undergoing Dr. Carson’s procedure: have large numbers of them gone into investment banking, rock music, politics, or other fields attractive to demons?

      • lliamander says:

        A fair question. The standard for assessing whether one is dealing with a demonic spirit is is to have them repeat the Lord’s Prayer. If the patient is also a Christian, you can perform the 1J42 test (1 John 4:2 – “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God”). However, there has been an increasingly a desire to to double check these methods.

        • Deiseach says:

          . If the patient is also a Christian, you can perform the 1J42 test (1 John 4:2 – “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God”).

          Not necessarily – Luke 8:26 “28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him, and with a loud voice said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!” 29 For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man”, so the spirit possessing the Gadarene demoniac confessed Jesus was the Christ. Or what of the account in Acts 19 of the attempt by itinerant Jewish exorcists, when they saw the results achieved by St Paul, to copy his methods?

          13 Now some also of the Jewish exorcists who went about, attempted to invoke over them that had evil spirits, the name of the Lord Jesus, saying: I conjure you by Jesus, whom Paul preacheth.

          14 And there were certain men, seven sons of Sceva, a Jew, a chief priest, that did this.

          15 But the wicked spirit, answering, said to them: Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?

          16 And the man in whom the wicked spirit was, leaping upon them, and mastering them both, prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

          Also, you make a fundamental error about the soul. The soul is not located in any particular organ (so if, for instance, you have to have a leg amputated, you are not also cutting off a bit of your soul). This includes the brain. So the soul is not “halved” when one hemisphere of the brain is separated, nor do you have or create two souls, neither is the soul located or transplanted to the functioning hemisphere:

          “though connaturally related to the body, it is itself absolutely simple, i.e. of an unextended and spiritual nature. It is not wholly immersed in matter, its higher operations being intrinsically independent of the organism”

          How do you know if an exorcism is necessary? From the guidelines issued with the revised rite of exorcism in 1999:

          1.First, the exorcist must be sure he is dealing with a possessed person, not someone with psychological problems.
          2.To do this, he must distinguish possession from superstition. Sometimes people believe they have been affected by the “evil eye” or some other form of black magic. They should not be denied spiritual aid, but no exorcism should be carried out in such cases.
          3.The following are signs of possession: a sudden capacity to speak unknown languages; abnormal physical strength; the disclosure of hidden occurrences or events; and a vehement aversion to God, the Virgin Mary, the saints, sacramental rites and religious images, especially the cross.
          4.In difficult cases, while always respecting the secrecy of the confessional, the exorcist may consult with spiritual guides or Church-recommended physicians and psychiatrists before deciding to perform an exorcism.
          5. In the case of non-Catholics or other unusual situations, the exorcist-priest can leave the final decision to his diocesan bishop, who may also consult outside experts.
          6. The exorcism should, if possible, be carried out with the consent of the possessed person, and with awareness of that person’s individual physical and mental condition.
          7.The exorcism must always be performed as an expression of Catholic faith, and should never give the impression that it is a superstitious or magical event.
          8.At the same time, an exorcism should never turn into a “show” for the faithful. For that reason, media representatives and journalists must not be allowed to attend. The success or failure of an exorcism is not to be announced or published.
          9.Relatives and friends may assist at an exorcism, if the exorcist deems it helpful, since they are able to help with their prayers. The possessed person should pray to God, particularly before the ritual, and strengthen his soul by receiving the sacraments of Baptism, Confession and Communion.
          10.If at all possible, the exorcism should take place in a church, or if not, in a closed-in place, with images of Christ Crucified and of the Mother of God. The exorcist makes the sign of the Cross over the victim’s head, and immediately afterwards speaks the phrase commanding the devil, in Christ’s name, to depart from the body of the possessed.

          • Randy M says:

            “In the case of non-Catholics or other unusual situations”
            Are Catholics more likely to be possessed? Or just more likley to allow exorcism?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            At the same time, an exorcism should never turn into a “show” for the faithful. For that reason, media representatives and journalists must not be allowed to attend. The success or failure of an exorcism is not to be announced or published.

            Seriously, why does God love plausible deniability so much?

          • Winter Shaker says:

            7.The exorcism must always be performed as an expression of Catholic faith, and should never give the impression that it is a superstitious or magical event.

            Okay, this is probably a cheap shot, but someone has to say it: if they literally believe that people can taken over by malevolent supernatural entities, they’re well past any reasonable threshold for ‘superstitious’.

          • brad says:

            I listened to an NPR segment about exorcism in the Philippines a few months back. The general impression I got was that Filipinos are really enthusiastic about it and many believe demonic possession is a genuine and widespread problem in their country. Reading between the lines, it seems like the Vatican is faintly embarrassed by the enthusiasm but doesn’t want to forbid it because a) they’d probably do it anyway and b) demonic possession is in the Bible so they can’t really say it isn’t a thing.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Winter Shaker:

            “Superstition (n.): the nonsense we don’t believe in.”

          • Anthony says:

            Randy M – non-Catholics are much less likely to go to a Catholic priest for an exorcism.

            I have heard that Unitarian-Universalist exorcisms consist of making the sign of the question-mark with a coffee pot over the head of the possessed.

          • James Picone says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:
            That’s a perfectly reasonable rule, I think. Consider the alternative – it legitimately would become a public entertainment event. It certainly has historically.

            Consider it similar to all the ethical rules for information disclosure involved in doing medical trials on human subjects, with the additional wrinkle that anonymising would be nontrivial and it’s not being performed as an experiment.

          • Alrenous says:


            I play a game whenever I run into a new scholar who works on Medieval or early modern theological sources, any sources, any period, any place, from pre-Constantine Rome to Renaissance Poland. I ask: “Hey, have you ever run into arguments that God’s existence can’t be proved, or God wants to be known by faith alone, before the Reformation?” Answers: “No.” “Nope.” “Naah.” “No, never.” “Uhhh, not really, no.” “Nope.” “No.” “Nothing like that.” “Hmm… no.” “Never.” “Oh, yeah, one time I thought I found that in this fifth-century guy, but actually it was totally not that at all.”

  56. Nathan says:

    Question – which candidates do people here actually support? I have major policy disagreements with every candidate, but of the choices offered I would say Rubio is probably the best option. I was disappointed when Perry dropped out because he actually was putting forward the best economic platform of anyone, but I guess everyone had already decided he was dumb and not worth listening to. Cruz and Carson and maybe Jindal are among the better alternatives, Trump is the worst.

    • blacktrance says:

      I don’t support anyone, but think Rand Paul is the least bad of the current options. The Libertarian candidate will probably be better.
      Agreed about Trump being the worst.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      Rand is the best candidate in the running. But he doesn’t have much of a chance.

    • I expect I will end up voting for Gary Johnson on the Libertarian ticket. Of the Republicans, the least bad, in my view, is Rand Paul.

    • anonymous says:

      Bernie Sanders

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        A hypothetical hardball for sincere* Sanders supporters. Assuming that there exists a viable Democratic candidate to the right of Clinton, would you rather see zim as the nominee than Clinton? If not, what thought have you given to avoiding giving zim the nomination by splitting Clinton’s vote?

        * that is, people who really like Sanders’ policies, not Republicans who would prefer not to contest with Hillary in November

        • Luke Somers says:

          So let me get this straight.

          Suppose there’s a Democratic candidate to the right of Clinton… let’s say, Joe Lieberman. And suppose that Joe is a threat to Clinton.

          The problem with first-past-the-post is having to make choices like this, you know? If it looked like Clinton was getting squeezed too hard from the middle and Joe might win, I could defect to Clinton.

          And in the actual race where the candidate to the right is the actual republican nominee, I might just go for Clinton, depending on how capable Bernie looks at campaigning.

    • Urstoff says:

      Gary Johnson if he runs. Rand Paul is the least worst of the major party candidates, but I’m not too enthusiastic about him.

      • onyomi says:

        Rand Paul was supposed to be Ron Paul, but more acceptable to mainstream Republicans. Unfortunately, he seems to be perceived as merely a wishy-washy, whinier version of Ron Paul; less exciting to his grey base and still unacceptable to mainstream Republicans and Evangelicals.

        As, I think, the Onion described him: “less popular among young people than his 80 year-old father.”

        That said, I’d still vote for him ahead of anyone else running for the Democratic or Republican Party nominations right now.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I think all of the candidates are pretty terrible. If I could actually trust campaign promises, I might be willing to compromise for Bernie Sanders, but I see no evidence that he can even get elected at all — to say nothing of the frankly unrealistic campaign promises that he keeps making.

      As far as I can tell, regardless of which politician wins the next election, the outcome will be pretty much the same: lots of rhetoric, very little in the way of any actual policies that are not directly requested by some megacorporation.

      This is why, if given the chance, I will vote for Trump. Other candidates are just as capable of not doing anything remotely useful; but only Trump can do that while supplying pure comedy gold for 4..8 years straight.

      • anonymous says:

        Which candidate wins is liekly to have a big impact on whether and how many countries the US military arbitrarily bombs and invades. I consider that a pretty salient difference.

        • Matt C says:

          This was why I favored Obama over McCain back in the day.

          Not sure the difference was as big as I thought then. A buddy of mine who liked McCain enjoys rubbing my nose in Obama’s military adventures and saber rattling. I suspect McCain would have been even worse, but I’m not confident of it.

          I admit I am not paying much attention, but I haven’t noticed any contestants being as hawkish as McCain, or for that matter as dovish as Obama (back in 2008). And as we saw with Obama, what is said and what is done are two different things.

          I don’t disagree with your sentiment, but are you confident you can tell who’s actually going to drop more bombs than the other guy?

          • Bruce Beegle says:

            I almost voted for Obama in 2008, but after a little research decided that he wasn’t nearly as dovish as people thought. I left the presidential slot blank.

          • Setsize says:

            See, I distinctly remember holding my nose about Obama’s pretty-much-status-quo stances on military power. During the 2008 Democratic debates he staked out a position exactly one iota more dovish than HRC, whose position was just status quo. (Drawing down and pulling out of Iraq was a campaign promise; so was escalating and expanding in Afghanistan.)

          • anonymous says:

            I’m fairly confident that all of the candidates if elected would drop at least some bombs (even Sanders). And certainly I am disappointed and disgusted with Obama’s policy of “peace with honor” that kept Bush’s wars going way longer than they should have as well as his habit of dropping bombs all over the world for no good reason and extra-judicially assassination.

            That said, I’m pretty sure (say 85%) that McCain would have been worse. And I think it is at least 50/50 that we would have gotten involved in a major new conflict had he been elected (i.e. much worse).

            As for the current crop, I couldn’t say who would be the worst, but I don’t have much doubt Sanders would be the best. The old Rand Paul might have given him a run for his money, but the new one I’m not sure about.

            My weak sense is that Trump would have the highest tail risk (i.e. highest chance of causing megadeaths) but Cruz would have the highest chance of having at least a small war somewhere. I would put Clinton in the middle of the Republican pack.

          • FJ says:

            Huh, in 2008 I figured that Obama was actually *more* likely to start wars than McCain. My theory was that he’d be driven to (over?)compensate for the Democratic reputation for dovishness, plus he’d get a lot less pushback from other politicians for the same reasons.

            We can’t ever know what McCain would have done, but I don’t feel like my supposition is obviously absurd in hindsight.

          • anonymous says:

            As you say, it is impossible to know for sure. But given that McCain has spent all the time since not being elected saying we should invade and/or bomb many more places than even Obama has done, I’m pretty confident with my answer.

            He even wanted to send “military advisers” Ukraine. You’d think having fought in the Vietnam War he’d know where that road leads.

          • FJ says:

            A fair point, anonymous. But obviously we can’t credit a losing Presidential candidate’s statements about what he would have done instead. What would Senator Obama say about President McCain’s intervention in Libya?

        • Bugmaster says:

          Yeah, I agree with Matt C. If I could reliably predict which candidate would be least likely to bomb random countries, of course I’d prefer that guy; but right now, this is not possible.

          • Woodrow Wilson was reelected in 1916 on the slogan “He kept us out of war” and proceeded to take the U.S. into WWI.

          • brad says:

            I wish he hadn’t also. Rarely has their been a more pointless war. But to be fair, he kept us out a long time. For a couple of years even after the Lusitania. But after the Zimmerman Telegram and unrestricted submarine warfare the public pressure was enormous.

          • Deiseach says:

            Rarely has their been a more pointless war.

            Pointless but probably necessary. An awful lot of pressure had built up in Continental Europe, particularly the Baltic States. And with Russia both encouraging pan-Slavism, and positioning itself as the leader of the Slavs, and then the internal changes roiling Russia, something had to blow.

            There’s been a lot of speculation about “What if Hitler won the Second World War” but has anyone ever done anything on “What if Germany had won the First World War”?

            If the USA had stayed out, if Italy had remained neutral, with Russia withdrawing due to the October Revolution and the Ottoman Empire joining in on the side of the Central Powers, would it have been possible for Germany to win?

            What would a post-war Europe look like, with a resurgent German Empire the victor? Would the Ottoman Empire have regained/been awarded its former Baltic possessions? Would it have consolidated its hold on the Middle East (this has knock-on effects for the establishment – or not – of the state of Israel)? Britain, I think, would still have been weakened and perhaps the collapse of Empire would have been speeded up by being the losers, not the victors.

            Would there have been a Second World War all the same, only this time without the Final Solution or “The Jewish Problem” being part of it? Certainly a bellicose Kaiser Wilhelm as the supreme European power is not something I think anyone particularly wanted to see.

            Whichever side won, I think there still would have been a massive change in society. Perhaps the necessary change – the impression I get of Viennese society in particular (and this is solely from reading Edwardian detective fiction, so not one bit scholarly) is of an overheated, over-furnished drawing room, the air close with the smell of cigar smoke and perfume, expensive jewellery flashing beneath artificial light, both the furniture and the inhabitants well-upholstered, and hysteria bubbling up beneath the comfortable bourgeois façade. It really isn’t that surprising that Vienna produced Freud.

            Something was needed to smash the windows open and let in air and light.

          • onyomi says:

            What I find especially creepy and disconcerting about the simultaneous pointlessness and inevitability of WWI is how people, at first, were, apparently, kind of excited about the chance for military glory. It’s sort of like nation states had minds of their own and were jus itching to flex their muscles, even on an unnecessary conflict. It is well that war is so terrible and all that.

          • onyomi says:

            “Woodrow Wilson was reelected in 1916 on the slogan “He kept us out of war” and proceeded to take the U.S. into WWI.”

            It’s kind of amazing to me in general how little presidents are held to account for their own, very loud, explicit campaign promises… well, except for “no new taxes.”

            It’s almost like everybody already secretly knows that they’ll say anything to get elected and don’t bother to hold them to it.

          • Susebron says:

            Would the Ottoman Empire have regained/been awarded its former Baltic possessions?

            I would expect not. The Russians would have strongly resisted any Ottoman attempts to reconquer the Baltic states, and I expect that the Estonians would not have suffered Ottoman rule for very long.

          • “Would the Ottoman Empire have regained/been awarded its former Baltic possessions?”

            Was that a typo for “Balkan?”

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “but has anyone ever done anything on “What if Germany had won the First World War”?”

            Kaiserrecih (a bit nonserious though; aiming for a fun video game)

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            David –

            I assumed so, throughout the post. Assuming Baltic is meant literally does lead to some amusing historical what-ifs, though. The Sultan in Riga!

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        I’d only vote for Bernie Sanders if I believed he wouldn’t be able to fulfill his campaign promises; the man wants to institute a Tobin Tax and hates free trade (including trade with Canada and South Korea). He shouldn’t be let anywhere near real power.

    • keranih says:

      Again with the “don’t support”, but I was pretty okay with Scott Walker and might have voted for Jim Webb, depending on who was the Repub nominee.

  57. Giles says:

    This is probably the funniest thing I’ve read all year 🙂

    That said, and apologies if someone has already mentioned this, but isn’t the Nazis’ defeat in the Second World War a bad sign for the efficacy of the Sword of Chang?

    • Vorkon says:

      Fortunately for us, they were defeated due to the misuse of an even more powerful holy artifact.

      You see, when the Guardian of the Grail offered them their choice, they foolishly picked a plain red cup, rather than the one that said “Merry Christmas,” and in their hubris they were cast down and lost possession of the Lance, and thus the war.

      It wasn’t World War 2 the Nazis lost; It was the War on Christmas.

    • Protagoras says:

      Clearly the Soviets discovered an even more powerful artifact sometime around the time the battle of Stalingrad was beginning. Stalin was too old and tired to make much use of it after the war, and the secretive old bastard hid it rather than passing it on to his successors. He probably hid it somewhere in Ukraine; that’s why Putin’s troops are showing so much interest in the place.

    • Fibs says:

      Hang on, how can you not know your history? I thought this was common knowledge. The Nazi war machine was doing quite well until a single Allied forces agent infiltrate the top secret Castle Wolfestein and recovered the Spear of Destiny aka The Lance of Longinus aka The Holy Lance.

      This was a pretty well documented thing, let me just find a source, hang on.

  58. Hyperboloid says:

    Being Presidential material seems like the kind of thing where environmental factors could count for a lot. Imagine you had to hire a blacksmith to shoe your horse.

    You have two choices:

    #1 A man whose father and brother had been prominent and respected town blacksmiths.

    #2 A man who comes from a long line of masons.

    If you knew nothing else about them it seems it would be reasonable to choose number 1. To play devil’s advocate; maybe good political leadership requires a highly specialized skill set that can only be learned from experience? In which case, other than electing a former president, America best choice might be someone one who benefits from years of built up Bush/Clinton family knowhow.

    Of course, there does seem to be some evidence against this hypothesis.

    • onyomi says:

      This would also be assuming the American people were reasonably happy with the job done by the last two Bush presidents, which is far from a safe assumption.

      • Hyperboloid says:

        When it comes to bush 43, its very far from a safe assumption. But I was trying to go easy on Jeb.
        It would be mean spirited to kick a man when he’s down.

  59. blockcaster says:

    Man, this comment section might not be one of SSC’s finest hours, but it sure cured my tendency to think of Political Correctness as necessarily a left-wing phenomenon.

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      There sure are a lot of rustled jimmies in here.

    • Chalid says:

      I feel like the Red tribe bit of PC that annoys me the most is how every time you mention soldiers or police, you must affirm their heroism.

      Can’t think of any Grey examples. I guess PC happens when a majority wants to mold the speech and behavior of a minority, and Greys are never a majority in anything important?

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        “Grey culture is getting so PC these days. You say ‘neckbeard’ or ‘fedora’ just once and everyone jumps on you.”

        Also, you know, on this very blog you can’t just go ranting about how k**es and n****rs are taking over the world. Even those who must not be named have to use polite language to express their opinions.

        I don’t know if you consider it “grey”, but the Objectivist movement (of which I consider myself a member, mind you) had and still has to some extent an enormously overdeveloped sense of political correctness. Just go to the right messageboard and try to argue for the superiority of anarcho-capitalism vis-a-vis minarchism.

        Any subculture develops a kind of political correctness of some sort or other. It’s not always as bad, or even bad at all, but it happens.

        • Vorkon says:

          I can’t help but be amused by the use of the term “those who must not be named” in a thread about political correctness among the grey tribe. Was that intentional, by any chance?

          (And yes, before anyone says it, I am well aware that there are differences between the rationalist taboo and what we generally call “political correctness.” Of course, most advocates of some form of political correctness would have something similar to say about their political correctness. Sometimes they’re even right!)

          • Cauê says:

            What people have been doing here is not playing rationalist taboo properly, though. People are simply changing “Voldemort” to “You Know Who”, while saying the exact same sentences they would have said.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            It was definitely intentional. 🙂

            As you say, though, I take it that the “taboo” was not to prohibit people from discussing (gasp) “neo**********y” thought, but to try to get them to stop aggregating it together as one conceptual unit.

            This seems to have been totally ineffective. Obviously, calling them “those-who-must-not-be-named” or “novo-regressives” or whatever is just changing the semantic sign, but still referring to the same concept.

            The rationalist “taboo” is supposed to be deeper than that. It is supposed to get you to explain what lower-level facts give rise to the concept you’re using, to make sure you’re not using it as (what Ayn Rand would call) a “floating abstraction”.

            But if I say to you: “tell me what gravity is without using “gravity” or its synonyms” it clearly doesn’t suffice to say “it is the physical force that must not be named”. “The force that must not be named” is actually synonymous with gravity in this context, so you are not explaining it.

            However, I do think that Scott’s intentions were good with this “taboo”. What he was implying is that “neo*******n” is (to use more Rand jargon) an “anti-concept” grouping together different schools of thought that have no essential unifying characteristics. It is therefore inherently vague and without any actual referents, other than a certain caricature. And this has a certain plausibility. (On the other hand, you can also argue that the “family resemblances” are strong enough to argue for grouping them together in the same way we group together “conservatives” for many useful purposes.)

            Edit: I was ninja’d by Cauê, who gave a concise summary of this.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think I’ll start just calling the ideology that must not be named “Voldemort”.

          • anon says:

            But they are one conceptual unit. They made a website and started talking about how [banned word] was a “brand” and how they needed to start improving it by somehow getting everyone to acknowledge that they were its leaders.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        Whenever I hear ‘reaffirm their heroism’, I think of this

      • JBeshir says:

        Hmm. I’d think political correctness is at a first approximation, social pressure against people for saying or doing things which indicate they hold, or implicitly agree with, ideas that the group thinks cause to social harm, or saying or doing things which have the expected consequence of amplifying ideas that the group thinks cause social harm.

        This often comes in the form of pressure against particular phrases which either are associated with an enemy model of the world, or which are known (as common knowledge) to be evidence that the speaker is an enemy (if only because the phrase is statistically more common amongst enemies), meaning their use tells everyone that the speaker is okay being thought to be an enemy, which functions socially as a form of endorsement and so is reacted to as such.

        When people are in a minority, they don’t generally exercise effective social pressure, so with the Grey tribe you’re limited to looking at the few online communities where they’re predominant, or looking at ineffective reactions.

        Probably the best example I can think of is “trigger warnings”- you can do tagging of content under a different name, but if you actually use the phrase “trigger warning” you’ve marked yourself as either holding or being happy to be confused with people who hold Harmful models of the world, and as a result you’re going to get hostile reactions. To be politically correct, you can call them “content notes”.

        Talking about “microaggressions” is similar. Some of this is because of the concept, since worrying about such things is not very individualistic. If you avoid the phrase and write out a long thing about how unpleasant it is to live with people around you doing lots of little things that show that they think of people like you as a joke, especially if “people like you” are defined by political views, you’ll get a much more sympathetic response though.

        Talking about concerns which are hard to resolve without compromising individualism (e.g. self-reinforcing cultural stereotypes, expectations, attitudes, rape culture in particular, harms from hateful speech) can also get you thought of as an enemy, and research showing that these things are actually issues (and thus, the people talking about incentivising/disincentivising speech to alter them have a point) is thought of about as poorly by the Grey tribe as research showing that they aren’t would be by the Blue. Grey tribe is just much weaker.

        There’s also the strongly economically individualistic Greys (libertarians, Objectivists, ancaps), who are a minority here. In some communities you’ll find you can add talk about anything related to coordination problems, market failures to that list, though.

        • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

          Our dear host happily calls his trigger warnings “trigger warnings”. Still, “content note” is the older, less politicized term.

          My feeling is that politicized terms are bad form, but are about as awful as ordinary swearing – they shouldn’t be used in formal writing, but aren’t something to crusade about.

          • Nornagest says:

            The last post I can find that uses any kind of warning is “It Was You Who Made My Blue Eyes Blue”, which uses “content note”. “Against Against Autism Cures” uses “content warning”, as does “Vegetarianism for Meat-Eaters”.

    • John Sidles says:

      blockcaster says “This comment section […] sure cured my tendency to think of Political Correctness as necessarily a left-wing phenomenon.”


      “Nowhere do people tolerate attacks on their person, their family, their country … or their creation myth.”
         — Ed Wilson (The Meaning of Human Existence)

      This includes attacks on sacred myths about the origins of injustice, with “injustice” ascribed variously to:

        • lack of reason
        • lack of democracy
        • lack of autocracy
        • lack of free markets
        • lack of patriotism
        • lack of faith in God
        • lack of a sacred text
        • lack of pure-bloods
        • lack of empathy
        • lack of tolerance
        • lack of a sense of humor

      (my money’s on the last three).

      • Anonymous says:

        This is the most legible comment I’ve seen you make. Are you feeling alright? 😛

        • John Sidles says:

          Doh! … uhhh … maybe “legible” should read “lucid”?

          In any event, my efforts to demonstrate blog-opacity that unites Pessoa’s poetry, Mochizuki’s mathematics, and Tom Paine’s prose (Flesch-Kincaid Level 12, yikes!) will resume with immediate contrafibrilarity. 😉

        • John Sidles says:

          Evaluations of Opacity

          As a followup to the above comment, the following table presents a weighted average of reading-difficulty scores: the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, the Gunning-Fog Score, the Coleman-Liau Index, the SMOG Index, the Automated Readability Index.

          For longer works, only the first chapter is analyzed.

          Without further ado, here are some representative works:

          LEVEL  | AUTHOR / WORK
            6.8  | Mark Twain / "Huckleberry Finn"
            8.5  | Baruch Spinoza / "Ethics"
            9.2  | Mencius Moldbug / "Introduction to 
                       'Unqualified Reservations'"
            9.6  | Herman Melville / "Moby Dick"
           10.9  | Eliezer_Yudkowsky / "What Do We Mean 
                                       By 'Rationality'?"
           11.3  | Scott Alexander / "Hardball Questions"
           11.4  | Ayn Rand / "The Virtue of Selfishness"
           11.6  | Izabella Laba / "What if mathematicians 
                                   wrote travel articles?"
           12.1  | John Sidles / (comments on this topic)
           13.3  | Scott Aaronson / "Ordinary Words Will Do"
           13.8  | Ted Chiang / "Exhalation"
           15.8  | Tom Paine / "Common Sense"

          That Baruch Spinoza’s prose evaluates as easy to read — almost as easy as Huckleberry Finn‘s prose — while Tom Paine’s prose is hard to read, came as a considerable surprise to me.

          What can we conclude? Perhaps that it takes real genius to write at either end of the reading-difficulty spectrum.

          In the middle ranges — where most academic writing falls (hilariously, as Izabella Laba observes) — not so much! 🙂

          • Nornagest says:

            Reading difficulty algorithms make a lot of assumptions about style and formatting. They aren’t good cross-genre comparison tools, let alone cross-medium, and they break down especially badly with writers who’re fond of indirection and aphorism.

            Most translations of Nietzsche score low, for example; I just fed Book 1 of Thus Spoke Zarathustra into an online calculator, and it averaged sixth grade level. Yet he’s a famously obscure writer, and that’s one of his more obscure works.

          • John Sidles says:

            Yes, easy-to-read does not imply easy-to-understand, any more than easy-to-watch implies easy-to-read, or easy-to-appreciate in social context, both past and present.

          • Nornagest says:

            Writing is communication. Easy to read does mean easy to understand, and vice versa.

            Flesch-Kincaid and its friends are proxies for reading ease, but they don’t directly measure it. It’s hard to imagine a similar algorithm that could.

          • John Sidles says:

            Nornagest proposes “Writing is communication.”

            What exactly is it, that Huckleberry Finn‘s raft-story “communicates” to us, that Fenimore Cooper’s raft-story doesn’t?

            Didn’t the “early” Wittgenstein evolve to become the “later” Wittgenstein precisely by rejecting the “communication” postulate?

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m pretty sure you’re capable of figuring that one out for yourself.

            But we’ve been through this before, haven’t we? Let’s just cut to the chase: what sense of “ease of reading” are you using that doesn’t correspond to ease of understanding? And what are you trying to do with it? I can imagine a few: obscure words, complex structure. But if you’re not scoring a spelling bee, what’s the point?

            (As an aside, would you mind using the blockquote tags without adornment, or at least limiting yourself to “says” rather than “proposes”, “opines”, “asserts”? You’re coming off as condescending. Which might be what you’re going for, but it’d be polite to give the benefit of the doubt.)

  60. Thecommexokid says:

    Thank you, Scott, for putting the Ted Cruz section immediately prior to the Marco Rubio section. It was nice to be reminded that the outside view says not to put too much stock in arguments generated by a sufficiently skilled arguer, immediately prior to hearing your otherwise troublingly plausible account of an Antichrist-channeling magic sword.

    • jonathan says:

      I think the outside view just says to pay attention to the process that produces the argument, as well as the content of the argument.

      So the problem is not that that the AI is a clever arguer per se; it’s that the AI is a clever arguer *who is arguing one side of an issue, where its position was chosen at random*. In other words, the problem is that there’s no correlation between its chosen position and correctness, and no correlation between correctness and convincingness.

      In this case, we should ignore the argument. If we assume instead that the AI chose its position via an optimal reasoning process, we should accept its conclusion on authority, *ignoring the content of its argument*. If we think the AI is presenting all sides, then we pay attention to content.

      (Personally I find these epistemic questions fascinating, and hugely relevant for all decisions outside of the small subset concerning our own unique area of special expertise, where we can reasonably be expected to know of and accurately assess all relevant evidence/arguments. I think that, practically speaking, it’s about 10x more important than learning how to evaluate evidence for ourselves on average.)

  61. Linch says:

    Isn’t the best evidence against the Lance theory simply that HW lost to Clinton?

    This is especially bad when we consider that Rubio might be facing off against another Clinton.

    • Hadlowe says:

      The only thing I can think of is that the Clintons possess some black artifact more powerful than the Spear of Destiny.

      • Jordan D. says:

        Frankly, after reading some of these comments, I’ve come to the conclusion that society is dangerously unsure about the relative potency and efficacy of various mystic artifacts.

        I wonder if USG would fund a grant to build a rankings list? We’d need enough to hire a few PMCs in order to seize the relics by force for randomized controlled trials.

        • Vorkon says:

          This is true, and at no time was this problem brought into more sharp clarity than when we invaded Iraq under the false assumption that Saddam was in possession of potentially apocalyptic Babylonian artifacts.

          It turned out that what we feared would summon Gozer was actually just a novelty that he used to summon marshmallows to roast over a campfire. Now ISIS has sacked various museums and destroyed innumerable mystical artifacts that are actually useful, all because we overreacted to a goofy marshmallow golem.

          It’s a pity, really…

        • Deiseach says:

          Seizing relics by force never works out well and indeed often evokes the very fate you were trying to avoid by seizing the relic in the first place.

  62. jonathan says:

    Regarding your questions for Bush:

    You’re conflating fitness to be president with natural presidential ability. The former is a function of the latter, *and* other stuff (such as experience).

    If we assume that the only people qualified to be president are US senators and governors, that’s a set containing 150 current office holders, plus another 100 or so former office holder (of appropriate age). Throw in a few top CEOs (who have run, but never won), and maybe you’re talking about 300 people in all.

    Of course, all people in this set were themselves heavily selected for political ability, but I don’t think it’s all that unlikely that the son of someone who was 1/300 will themselves be 1/300. And assuming 50% republicans, you just need to be 1/150 to be the nominee.

    Of course, one might doubt that Bush Sr. was in fact 1/300, given that he was the only 1-term president since 1980, and won as the VP of one of the greatest politicians in recent memory.

    (Full disclosure: I personally think Bush is the most qualified serious candidate in the race, and I think it’s a national disgrace that the most qualified candidate is the son/brother of 2 of our last 4 presidents, and will (almost surely) be running against the wife of another, who I think is second most qualified.)

    • jonathan says:

      To add: A huge aspect here is that occupational choice runs in families.

      There’s the idea (which you may have mentioned in an earlier post) that there are lots of people qualified to be president (probably more qualified than those who run), but most such people prefer to become business leaders, or take on other high positions in the private sector, because they can make a lot more money there. Only a small subset of those qualified for president run, and it’s appeal is primarily to those who really like fame, or desire public service…*or* who come from political families.

      (Probably most low-level politicians are not particularly unusual in ability, relative to similar private-sector positions. And high-level politicians are mainly drawn from the lower-level, so I think preferences are a huge filter here.)

      There have been lots of political families in US history (Adams, Tafts, Kennedys, etc). And I think that occupational choice plays a significant role, along with inherited ability and networks. (Of course, networks are occupation-specific, so maybe this explains part of why occupations run in families in the first place. But I think it’s mainly cultural.)

      • onyomi says:

        Also, as I’m sure people have already mentioned, fitness to be president and fitness to win the presidency may be only very loosely correlated… or maybe even inversely correlated… another reason politics is not like most jobs, and in a bad way.

  63. W.T. Dore says:

    With Jeb Bush’s recent comments on proving the Christian beliefs of refugees, other good questions for him would be his stance on homoousian vs. homoiousian identity, and his response to the addition of filioque to the Nicene Creed.

  64. chris says:

    @ Scott Alexander

    Feminist activists get International Men’s Day celebration ended on York Campus.

    Further evidence that feminism isn’t about equality.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      Man, I totally forgot about that presidential candidate.

    • Deiseach says:

      There are so many international this that and the other days that I don’t take any notice of them, not even International Women’s Day.

      I am very sorry to read of this young man’s suicide, but I think there was more pushing him to it than merely “they cancelled International Men’s Day” and I don’t think you should be using this to score cheap points.

      You remind me of that crazy intactivist who hijacked a fandom blog I was part of a few years back and who, no matter what the topic of discussion, always dragged it round to “why don’t you all condemn the barbaric genital mutilation of men under the guise of circumcision and if you don’t, then it proves all you feminists simply want to castrate and enslave men”. The blog was majority female by a wide margin, however it happened that way, hence his accusation that we were all feminists – which yeah, probably, but not the Feminazi stereotype he was obsessed with – some of us were traditional Catholics! The blog wasn’t feminist per se but was mostly Tolkien-based although it branched out from all SF/Fantasy to all kinds of topics.

      I say he was crazy because this was not mere trolling, by tracking him back he had a blog and posted on several fora (before getting himself banned/kicked off) all about this. He was genuinely serious about the castration and enslavement, too.

      • Cauê says:

        I agree this was off-topic here, but you got it wrong. The suicide came before the cancellation, nobody is saying it was caused by it. Reading the story, Chris is quite right that it’s “further evidence that feminism isn’t about equality”, which is all he said.

    • JBeshir says:

      This is pretty bad. Thankfully there is a fairly significant backlash here, including from self-identified feminists who object to this being done in the name of feminism, and object to the whole “structural oppression is the only thing that matters, anything which even slightly is a compromise on that as the focus is evil” theory.

      With and discussing it, we’re seeing some mainstream, moderate vaguely left-ish attention paid to this stuff.

      This is good and suggests that the concerns Scott had in, that the substantive and sympathetic issues wouldn’t get a hearing, might turn out to be okay after all.

  65. Froolow says:

    Thank you. My question is for Ms. Clinton.

    Ms. Clinton, in 1978 as First Lady of Arkansas you invested $1000 in the hugely volatile cattle futures market, and made nearly $100,000 over the course of a year. This represents a nearly 10,000% return on investment, which professional investors have determined is a statistical impossibility without engaging in market manipulation of the kind you were clearly in a position to do as First Lady.

    It is a notable fact about your husband’s Presidency that science spending – along with grassroots spending with an indirect benefit to the sciences such as education and infrastructure – was given a huge boost. For example, National Science Foundation funding increased by 30%, and National Institute of Health funding increased by 40%. Indeed, so inspired was one GMC physicist that he actually changed his name to ‘Bill Clinton’ in honour of your husband [citation needed]. Less well remarked upon is that this funding was clearly directed away from high-energy experimental physics and towards the life sciences – the Supercolliding Superconductor project was cancelled, but the Human Genome Project received a huge amount of government funding and Presidential support. Does this reflect the spending priorities of a successful administration, or hide something much darker?

    It is reasonable to assume any person deciding the allocation of the many-billion dollar NSF budget must have at least a passing familiarity with the concept of ‘quantum immortality’ – the idea that under the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics it is impossible to experience being killed, and hence quantum superpositions must always collapse in favour of the experimenter surviving, because in the event of the experimenter dying there is no observer to collapse the superposition. No matter how unlikely an outcome – provided we’re talking about quantum phenomena – we can guarantee there will be an observer around to collapse the waveform afterwards.

    Hypothetically, someone acquainted with this literature could hook up their computer to a quantum object – an electron, say – and make random trades on the cattle market based on the movement of this electron. A little mechanical engineering could lead you to construct some kind of device for sensing bad trades and firing a gun into the operator of the computer if they had bet against the market. How terrified you must have been, staring down the barrel of that gun every night for over a year. Did you weep, perhaps, when the market started dropping and you put your mouth over the barrel, waiting for the end? Do you think about the Hilary Clintons in other Everett branches who made the ultimate sacrifice to bring your scheme to fruition? When your daughter was born in 1980 you stopped this godless atrocity, clearly recognising the madness you had unleashed when you gazed into the eyes of your innocent baby instead of the cold, steely eye of the Magnum .44 in your basement.

    But by then it was too late. By interacting with a quantum system in such a reckless way, you had become part of that quantum system yourself. Unable to die because of Quantum Immortality, and unable to face the truth of what you had become, you begged your husband – then President of the United States – to cancel all funding into high-energy particle research, lest anyone should discover what a monstrosity you birthed in that Arkansas terrace. Simultaneously you must have hoped that the human genome project would allow you some way to end your forsaken existence, and lobbied hard for its completion. As we now know, however, there is no such ‘magic bullet’ lurking in the genome, and you have had nearly three decades to contemplate your next steps.

    Before you respond, consider that during the 2010 State of the Union you were at a conference in London and unable to attend. It is tradition that the highest-ranking cabinet official not present at the State of the Union is made the ‘Designated Survivor’, to ensure the line of Presidential succession in the event the unspeakable should happen. But you were not made ‘Designated Survivor’ – the dubious honour falling to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who was eight places lower than you on the line of succession. It is clear that you must have informed the current administration of what you did to yourself in private emails sent from your personal account (hence your reluctance to disclose the contents). Barack Obama – a sensitive man – chose not to draw attention to your unfortunate plight by ironically making you the ‘Designated Survivor’. But I must – it is the right of the American people to know whether you have been ‘designated’ by your own mad hubris to survive us all.

    Since you have good evidence to suggest that you will be the last human alive as the stars wink out around you and the universe enters a state of total entropic decay, you must have considered that you will become the *de facto* President of the United States for uncountable eons as the last eligable American succumbs to the infinite darkness of eternity and names you *their* ‘Designated Survivor’. This is going to present a problem for you, since you will either have to break Article II of the Constitution (establishing four-year terms) or the 22nd Amendment (establishing term limits) in order to legally govern the patch of locally raised entropy which was once America. It is lucky that Presidential candidates can vote for themselves, otherwise we would be in quite a situation.

    Ms Clinton, my question is: which of these two laws will you repeal in your time in office, or are our primative concepts time and personhood so laughable to an immortal quantum being such as yourself that the question is meaningless?

    • Murphy says:

      this is supposed to be funny and bizarre, instead it’s a serious, realistic and boring.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Sheesh. I was refraining from saying it’s too bad that realistic priors can spike such magnificence.

      • Murphy says:

        I should be clear, the initial premise is too serious, realistic and boring. What it lead on to was quite good. It just feels too much like a boring jab at the start.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Ah. Yes, the first paragraph was realistic in one sense (by my priors, unrealistic) and the middle of the second paragraph lost me as boring.

  66. How the Fiorina question should have ended:

    Given your admiration for a multinational empire and your pro-merger record as CEO of HP, are you planning to arrange a merger with Canada and Australia?

  67. Deiseach says:

    Rubio seems likely to do well – I’ve just been smacked in the face with an unwanted Planned Parenthood post on Tumblr about how he’s not what they want since he’s anti-them (well, you know, anti-women and anti-reproductive justice, which boilerplate I take to mean “if elected he’s gonna stop giving us money!”).

    If PP are doing this, this seems to indicate they think he’s the most likely one to get the nomination – yes or no?

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      >this seems to indicate they think he’s the most likely one to get the nomination – yes or no?

      He’s the only mainstream candidate who’s still in the race, which makes him the default favourite since political commentators have gone too hard on the “It’s impossible for trump to win the nomination” to back down now.

    • stillnotking says:

      Rubio is the favorite for the nomination, certainly. Trump is either an incredible political genius, or a mediocre politician who’s gotten lucky so far; the latter is much more probable. Carson is getting swiftboated, and despite his tactical response being much better than Kerry’s was, I doubt the process can be stopped at this point. Both of them have an uphill battle to convince the GOP establishment and mainstream voters of their ability to win a general election. (And their loyalty to the party’s interests, in the event they do.)

      All Rubio needs to do is present himself as the safest option. It looks to me like his campaign realizes this, and the markets agree.

  68. Faradn says:

    I’m not sure if Scott actually buys into the idea of a flawlessly convincing super-AI, but I am very skeptical that such a thing could exist. Opinion is subjective by definition, not some math problem. Also an AI’s ability to argue is limited by humans’ ability to understand it. It might be the best arguer that ever argued, but someone with a strong contrary opinion would still stand a reasonable chance of resisting. Words from a superintelligence are still words, not mind control.

    • Murphy says:

      “hey, mr AI, what’s with all the weird spinning colours and staticy sounds coming from your termina ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNO-AI!”

  69. Luke Somers says:

    Lost it at ‘crappy CEO’. And then at the question for Rubio.

  70. Chris N says:

    Regarding the Ted Cruz bit: after reading your posts about Reactionary Philosophy, one of my roommates and I had a crisis of faith when we realized that as far as we could tell, /you/ are the most convincing person out of the 300 million people in America, and that you could probably convince us of anything. I took it as a sign that we needed to get better as rationalists, but at that point our preferred method of improvement was… reading more SSC (or blogs linked to from SSC).

    The point being, based on your comments on Ted Cruz, I’ve decided to disregard everything you say. As a result, I finally understand the Incompleteness Theorem.

  71. John Mikes says:

    Nice to read it.
    1-I don’t believe the country needs a president who is excellent in cutting out brain-parts from living organisma (as a sole experience, of course).
    2-Fiorina’s corporate experience is not presidential, where compromises are many times the sole way to stay alive. I have a different opinion about the Ottoman Empire which kept my former country under it’s heels for century and a half, suppressing the western-type advancement (political, science, art, etc.).
    3- Rubio: I would be very hard pressed to give him my acknowledgement to get rid of his ancestral inhibitions/prejudices. He represents a small fraction only.
    4- Bush: American dynasty, with not a desirable past. And there is the shadow of Dick Cheney, instigator of the greatest destructive blunder of the US history. (Only Hillary R. Clinton fell for it, when – as senator to the Bush-opposition – voted FOR (!) the Iraqi war (destroying our finances, people, positions and hyelping IS into being.)
    5- Cruz, I simply fear his right-wing prejudices from the leadership in Washington.
    6- Trump the Bigmouth – I cannot fogive him to establish gambling related traps for weak individuals, making a big fortune on the money – those unfortunate victims of his lost from their necessary funds to feed their families. Gambling IMO is a crime and luring people into it (for pocketing profit) is an even bigger crime.

    The only remedy is the thought that none of these guys may become president.
    Who then? but that is another frustrating story about the Lady.

  72. John Mikes says:

    Finally: isn’t in this country of ~350 million people O N E to be found with healthy political platform and capbilities to lead (in Washington?) who is not anti-American, anti-populace, self-interest adoring yet still up-to-date in ideas?
    Requirements are furthermore: an open and applicable attitude in foreign affairs, an independence from (religious etc.) supertitions and an accepting healthy basics into sciences (the view of doubt).
    Could such a person ever be elevated in present Washington to a presidential hopeful (i.e. to compete with the honchos of the powerful?)

  73. I m not saying that as some kind of political commentary. I m saying that I looked for them pretty hard and didn t find anything that satisfied me. The same is true of Rand Paul. This has nothing to do with their politics since most of the questions didn t involve candidates politics anyway.

  74. Robert Barlow says:

    I guess this is a late comment, but I genuinely like the direction these questions go in. If a politician deigns to respond to them with any kind of aversion, they will be just as suspect as trying to answer them seriously. The only way to win is to acknowledge the joke, and you don’t often picture a politician doing that.